In the past few months, after attending a plethora of film festivals, I’ve been noticing a recurring theme of questionable creative decision-making — specifically regarding the justification of a film’s chosen medium. Art, as general as that term is, contains a various amount of intricacies that sprout in various different sectors of commercial entertainment. Film, literature, music, and even more unconventional means of presentation such as museum installations and abstract expressionist pieces, are all reasonable avenues to make daring and personal statements. Art, after all, is all about the practice of self-expression. If there’s nothing to say, why bother to create? What I find particularly limiting in this trend is the amount of feature productions that had the clear advantage and opportunity to be told and presented in a more appropriate medium. Presentation is ultimately the crucial crux of any work; regardless of political affiliation or other related ties.
I say this purely as a preface to comment on Avi Mograbi’s latest non-fiction work entitled The First 54 Years – An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation. Lengthy title aside, the film in actuality highlights a disturbing and essential topic on the current Israeli occupation on the Palestinian West Bank Gaza Strip. The harrowing material presented is frequently objective; taking a stance purely based on factual evidence, statistics, and uncovered testimonies and data from the confessional perpetrators themselves. What’s most daring about the film is Mograbi’s clever and compelling framing device. Using the metaphor of an abbreviated manual — the dissection of tragedy, barbarism, and the cycles of violence that are frequently repeated upon generations of heated conflict, works predominantly due to Mograbi’s stripped down chapter-based approach.
The irony is that one can also argue that due to a specific lack of diagrams, footage, and other key elements of visual storytelling that typically makes up compelling filmmaking, that the material presented here would simply work more efficiently and effectively as a literal literary manual. As Mograbi details and interviews exclusive personnel on the events, the lack of anything to particularly deem this film worthy of the cinematic-treatment slowly glimmers in the limelight. Perhaps a printed version of the testimonies — accompanied by an audiobook recording of the same audio-track presented within the film — would have been far more preferable.
In order to create something substantial within a warranted medium, the treatment of the material should specifically take advantage of the techniques and presentational conveniences of what the specific medium provides. In the case of The First 54 Years – An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation, the cinematic treatment presented is largely unjustified due to a lack of visual-based production. However, Mograbi’s extensive research and biting commentary shouldn’t be disregarded. There’s a lot of potential at the forefront of what Mograbi is specifically trying to state here. Especially when delving into the other social-political factors at play, an abbreviated document of events simply isn’t enough to cover the psychological scope and perspective of this devastating tragedy. At the very least now, we should be content that there’s some document that could potentially inspire other filmmakers and researchers to delve deeper towards Mograbi’s cinematic manual of events.
Dir: Avi Mograbi
Runtime: 110 minutes
The First 54 Years – An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation premiered at this year’s 71st Berlinale as part of the Forum program. The film is currently seeking international distribution.