THE WANTED 18 (Amer Shomali & Paul Cowan, 2014)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Saturday, June 13, $14, 6:30
Festival runs June 11-21 at multiple venues
Film opens June 19 at Cinema Village
The never-ending battle between Israel and the Palestinians is reduced to a single incident attempting to be a microcosm of the conflict in the relatively silly and uneven documentary The Wanted 18. In 1988, shortly after the first Intifada began, an Israeli kibbutz sold eighteen cows to the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour. As the small, tight-knit community rallied around the cows, seeing them as a crucial part to their goal of freedom and independence, the Israelis grew suspicious of the Palestinians’ growing self-sufficiency and declared the cows “a threat to the national security of the state of Israel.” Codirectors Amer Shomali, whose family came from Beit Sahour, and Canadian Paul Cowan (Going the Distance, Westray) tell the story of the fight over the cows through contemporary interviews, drawings, reenactments, archival footage, and stop-motion animation in which four of the cows share their thoughts on the matter: Rivka (voiced by Holly Uloth “O’Brien”), Ruth (Heidi Foss), Lola (casting director Rosann Nerenberg), and Goldie (Alison Darcy). The heavily one-sided tale delves into such issues as taxation, bigotry, boycotts, curfews, and civil disobedience, as people from Beit Sahour give first-person accounts of what happened, along with Ehud Zrahiya, who at the time was advisor to the Israeli military governor on Arab affairs. “We were concerned that Beit Sahour may become a model for other places,” Zrahiya admits. “We were certainly concerned that this might infect other places and would spread to other localities throughout the West Bank.”
But while the animation style itself is fun and creative — the animation was inspired at least in part by a comic book that Shomali read as a child — the invented dialogue of the cows serves to trivialize the matter and turn it into a joke, which is part of the point but also results in making it look like the Palestinians are laughing, and crying, over spilt milk, as it were. Julia Bacha’s more direct 2009 film, Budrus, was much more effective in dealing with an absurd Israeli military order to chop down hundreds of acres of Palestinian olive trees in order to build a separation barrier in the West Bank. The Wanted 18 belittles the situation, especially when Beit Sahour wants to continue the fight despite the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords by U.S. president Bill Clinton, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The Wanted 18 is screening June 13 at 6:30 at Lincoln Center as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and will be followed by a panel discussion with Shomali, Just Vision creative director Bacha, producer Ina Fichman, and Human Rights Watch MENA division executive director Sarah Leah Whitson, moderated by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! The film opens theatrically June 19 at Cinema Village.