Budrus could be the lightning rod of this years SFJFF

The end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will happen as a result of the everyday efforts of ordinary people, not the proclamations of politicians, filmmakers Ronit Avni and Julia Bacha are convinced.

“Encounter Point,” their powerhouse 2006 documentary, focused on Jews and Arabs who lost loved ones due to the violence between Palestinians and Israelis, yet were committed to forgiveness and peace. It was the audience winner for best documentary at the 2006 San Francisco International Film Festival.

The duo’s new film, “Budrus,” spotlights a Palestinian man who forged alliances between local Fatah and Hamas followers to protest the construction of a security barrier through their West Bank town. The twist is that the ongoing protest is joined by dozens of Israelis.

In an interview after “Budrus” screened in the SFIFF in May, Avni said that she and Bacha made the film as a response to Jews in the United States and Israel who continual asking, “Where is the Palestinian nonviolence movement?”

Said Avni: “Often the phrase that followed the question was something along the lines of, ‘If only Palestinians adopted nonviolence, there would be peace.’ The film explores what it looks like when a Palestinian nonviolence movement emerges. And what is the Israeli response?”

“Budrus” screens July 28 in San Francisco and Aug. 1 in Berkeley in the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. She will speak at both screenings.

The 82-minute film, in Hebrew with English subtitles, screened at the Dubai, Berlin and Tribeca film festivals, and will receive one-week Oscar qualifying runs in Los Angeles and New York later this summer. The documentary is scheduled for a national opening in October.

A liberal Jew who now lives in Washington, D.C., Avni is acutely aware of and sensitive to the attitudes of some American Jews vis-à-vis Palestinians — and that some in the pro-Israel camp might take aim at “Budrus.”

“I don’t think the subject in our film questions Israeli concerns about security,” she says. “So audiences get to see that it’s not a zero-sum equation. [The Palestinians] are not calling for anyone to be endangered in any way and they are very clear about that. But they aren’t going to sit quietly when they are losing land and their communities are in danger.”

The hyper-articulate Avni, who was born in Canada and lived in east Jerusalem from 2003 to 2005, will be present for both screenings and also will participate in a panel discussion that grew out of last year’s “Rachel” controversy.

“Is Dialogue Possible? How Films Help Us Talk About Israel (… Or Not)” is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. July 29 at the Castro Theatre. Billed as a free, lunchtime discussion, it will include Avni, “My So Called Enemy” director Lisa Gossels and experts in civic engagement.

“If there are difficult moments in [‘Budrus’],” Avni said, “we hope that that raises a discussion about what we in the international community can do to support truly nonviolent methods to resolve the conflict.”

To make their film, Avni and the Brazilian-born Bacha collected and organized verité footage shot by numerous professionals and amateurs in Budrus. They also did some interviews with the film’s central figure, Ayed Moorar, and a few others, but the story is driven by the chronology of events and the accompanying footage, which was edited in the United States.

The film’s timeline runs from the beginning of Budrus’ resistance to the security barrier in 2003 through last year. Interestingly, and intentionally, they leave the film’s ending date vague for viewers.

“Budrus is happening today in other villages,” Avni says, “so we didn’t want people to think that the events chronicled in the film were of another era and aren’t relevant today.”

Avni and Bacha (who is not Jewish) see themselves as more than filmmakers. They founded Just Vision not just to funnel financial support for their documentaries, but to provide organized outreach and ongoing influence in support of those working for nonviolent resolution of the conflict.

“Media play a critical role in exposing or obscuring the contribution that civil society has made and can make on this issue,” Avni says. “There has been a disproportionate coverage of militancy and militarism compared to communities and individuals trying to problem-solve.”

In a sound-bite world, newscasts will always make room for shooting and shouting. But they can’t compress long-term process into a 60-second segment.

“It’s much harder to tell stories about slow, bottom-up change,” Avni says. “I think documentary film is uniquely positioned to tell those kinds of stories. They complement other forms of media coverage, and that’s where our contribution lies.”

In conclusion, Avni offers a kind of challenge to her fellow Jews.

“What I’d like to see in the Jewish community is a deeper discussion about what constitutes nonviolence,” she says. “We all have a lot of learning to do to understand it beyond the iconic images and clichés. I think Gandhi would be a good starting point.”


“Budrus”
screens at 4 p.m. July 28 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco and at 6:45 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Roda Theatre in Berkeley.

Michael Fox

Michael Fox is a longtime film journalist and critic, and a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. He is the curator and host of the CinemaLit film series at the Mechanics’ Institute and teaches documentary classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute programs at U.C. Berkeley and S.F. State. In 2015, the San Francisco Film Society added Fox to Essential SF, its ongoing compendium of the Bay Area film community's most vital figures and institutions.