French-Israeli filmmaker Tamara Erde’s debut documentary “This is My Land” offers insight into the differing educational systems of Israel and Palestine, yet fails to allow viewers to connect with its subjects.
In an early interview, a female Palestinian teacher describes the lack of information about Palestinians in Israeli textbooks. She opens a textbook and points to a small black and white photo in the bottom corner of the page. Only one child stares directly at the camera: a young girl. The instructor states that she is the only Palestinian in her class. After watching this scene, I excitedly anticipated intimate interviews with other students in similar situations. Unfortunately, this is not how Erde chose to craft her documentary.
Instead, she structures it as an argumentative essay. She introduces the film by immediately presenting the audience with her thesis — a huge discrepancy exists between the actual history of Israel and Palestine and what is taught. The body of the film depicts Erde’s visits to an Israeli school, an Arab school, a Talmudic school, a UN school for refugees and a mixed school (one that incorporates students of Jewish and Arab descent). Overall, she nicely blends sit-down interviews with strictly observational footage. Maintaining this framework to the very end, Erde provides a succinct conclusion.
While Erde commendably represents both sides, her style makes “This is My Land” feel scattered. Once each setting is introduced, the film alternates between shots of the students and teachers without re-establishing which school they’re from, causing occasional moments of confusion. Furthermore, while every teacher gets his or her own scene, most children only get a few sentences before they’re replaced with another. These unsettled transitions between subjects hinder the development of a connection between the child and the audience.
The footage from the mixed school powerfully demonstrates how differently the two nations teach their respective histories. The featured class is co-taught by a Palestinian woman and an Israeli man. They each present their own interpretation of the causes of certain historical events, allowing the students to decide whom they believe. Both arguments are ridden with faults, which is made apparent in the awkward pauses that occur when one teacher cannot refute the other’s argument.
Toward the end of the 90 minutes, we’re offered a rare moment of intimacy. Outside the UN school for refugees, two young boys and their teacher converse on a brick ledge. The teacher asks one boy if he ever thinks about his parents. The boy nods, then proceeds to explain how he distinctly remembers the moment his mother was shot; he violently fell from her arms the instant the bullet struck and killed her.
It’s hard not to think of that young boy and how government officials will try to foster his anger toward those who killed his mother into violence when discussing the film, further fueling the tension between the nations instead of resolving it. His anecdote emphasizes the direness of the situation more than any other technique or clip Erde uses. I wish that the film was dominated by testimonies so that instead of just being made aware of this intense manipulation, one could more fully understand its destructive impact on the children’s lives.