Reviewed By Collin Souter
Posted 10/08/04 09:21:29

"Adds a whole new deminsion to the Civil Liberties debate"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

(SCREENED AT THE 2004 CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL) Imagine you have a sick child who needs to go to the hospital. You have been there many times before, but today, for whatever reason, they won’t let you in. A guard with a gun stands between you and the hospital. He simply denies you permission to pass. “Go home,” he says. Over 3,000,000 Palestinians face this type of situation every day. Since 1967, the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been under Israeli military occupation in which citizens must pass through checkpoints to go to work, visit relatives or take their children to the hospital. Between 2001 and 2003, Yoav Shamir filmed several of the conflicts that erupted at these checkpoints and lets the powerful, unflinching footage speak for itself.

Yoav Shamir’s Checkpoint can best be described as a slice-of-life documentary. While the premise might be political in nature and will no doubt spawn debates over civil liberties both here in the States and abroad, Shamir’s film never leaves its titular area for further discussion. The film depicts the Israeli occupation of Palestine from the perspective of both the militants and the civilians at the checkpoints that exist along the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The dialogue between the two can either go smoothly or result in absurd, unnecessary situations. Whatever happens, it’s all a part of the daily routine.

Shamir spent two years filming these incidents and came away with footage that speaks for itself, without the aid of a central voice or narrator to provide perspective. The militants carry out the orders to either let the Palestinians through or to deny them access, but who gives these orders and why? Why would a school bus full of kids get through the checkpoint one day, but be denied the next? The answers boil down to permits (or lack thereof), curfews that seem to come and go on a whim and, of course, fear of terrorism. The question remains: Is all of this necessary?

Without a definite answer, Shamir’s film tries to maintain a balance by letting both sides have their say. Some of the militants clearly feed on the power trip that comes with the job, while others fear the blame for these absurd situations will be placed on them and not their superiors. One officer tells Shamir, “Try to make me look good…blame it on the higher ranks, not me.” Many officers would rather not be here at all.

“Checkpoint,” of course, has to build up to something and it does. At one point a civilian looks into the camera and says, “Go ahead. Film what they do to us.” Shamir does just that, leaving us thankful that we only have to take this slice of life in small doses. Like …’s documentary “Promises” from a couple years ago, Shamir puts the Middle East conflict in layman’s terms and puts everything in perspective for those who have not read up on it and only know about the occasional suicide bombings. It’s a powerful film, one that will make you feel angry and thankful all at once.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Portions of this review can also be found in the Chicago International Film Festival Book, also written by Collin Souter.

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