The Gatekeepers Review | Jewish Film Festival 2013

The Gatekeepers is one of those important, very serious documentaries, which come along rarely and reveals a history, which has been closely guarded for years. The importance of a documentary like The Gatekeepers is illustrated by its nomination at this year’s Academy Awards, in the Best Documentary section, only losing to Searching For Sugarman.

Director, Dror Moreh, whilst working on another documentary about former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, realised how important the Shin Bet (otherwise known as the Israeli Security Agency) was in making important national and international security decisions for the State of Israel. For the first time, Moreh, managed to bring together a variety of Heads from the Shin Bet to talk about their experiences whilst working for the agency, and what they think of security in Israel today.

In the first instance, this is a very unique documentary because these men have never spoken out about their work before. The situations and events they talk about, have been kept secret and hidden from public knowledge for years and even those stories, which the public have assumed to have happened are finally given their confirmation. Whilst one may have their personal thoughts on the way in, which Israel runs, this is an insiders look at those who head up the security of Israel; their views on morality, security and ensuring that their country is kept safe from those around who intend to hurt them, even if it is pre-meditated.

The film is split into seven different sections that concentrate on certain themes and which roughly follow a chronological order starting from the Six Day War in June 1967 until the present day.

For me, the most interesting aspect of The Gatekeepers was its constant return to questions of morality; are the missions, which the Shin Bet take part in morally and ethically unreasonable and must they answer to someone higher, or are they are the highest possible authority? I suppose the scariest revelation was that they possibly are the highest authority, and they pose recommendations to the Israeli government regarding what they should do in security related situations. It is made pretty clear that the organisation runs free of government bias and remains (for the most part) unsupportive of any particular political party, which means that despite whichever party finds itself in office, there is always the need for this organisation and they always find themselves doing the same work, usually against the same people. Perhaps no party in Israel, will ever manage to bring the state into complete safety and surely The Gatekeepers is saying more about this, than the work of the organisation themselves.

Just to have such high members of this organisation speaking about the slightest possibility of morality in terrorist related situations, is something so unique to film and something I cannot think that I have seen before.

When it comes to the situations that this agency have dealt with, the film is very careful not to judge or push the interviewees in one direction or another. It is very much left to them to decide, which direction they are going to take the conversation. They aren’t pushed to say anything, and they don’t say anything to cause shock or news-worthy quotes but instead simply says it as it is, and how they have been trained. But because of this, there is also little restraint on what they say, and there are moments during The Gatekeepers, where some of the revelations were a little too much for me to take. When they were asked about the morality of certain situations, they made it pretty clear that morality wasn’t a question. If you can take a terrorist out of the picture, then you go ahead and do it. There was no thought other than permanent removal of certain people who were against the state.

But because of the lack of wanting to push into a certain direction during the interviews, I also found moments when I was bored and unsure what to make of what they were saying and how it was connected to what came before. There is little interaction with the interviewer and although it could be seen as a positive that they take the film in their own way and say what they want to say, there are times when talking heads can get very repetitive. Although Moreh breaks up the film with archive pictures, footage and computer generated scenarios, I found this wasn’t enough to make up. As a member of the audience, I found myself a little alienated, because I was just constantly being bombarded with information, and much of it was intense; there was little break during the documentary.

What is hugely interesting about The Gatekeepers though, is that it is pretty clear that the interviews with the Heads were done separately, but they appear to all come to the same sad, horrifying conclusion regarding Israel’s state of security and their attitudes to their missions. Moreh manages to strike an interesting balance between representing a seemingly apolitical party, questioning their moral culpability, all the whilst bringing out stories, which may never have been revealed before.

The Gatekeepers is screening as part of the UK Jewish Film Festival 2013, take a look here for more information:

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