US-Jewish filmmaker BZ Goldberg, and co-directors Justine Shapiro and Carlos Bolado, view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a children’s perspective in Oscar-nominated “Promises”. This gives the film a sadly contemporary relevance in the light of the latest developments in Gaza where three 14-year-olds attacked a Jewish settlement in desperation, already feeling a responsibility to fight.

Ulla Jacobsen
Jacobsen was previously editor in chief of the DOX Magazine from March 1998 until early 2009. A lot of the DOX articles republished in ModernTimes was ordered by her. After 2009 she worked freelance, until she died in 2013.

Though the seven protagonists in Promises are not that desperate yet, they are already filled with hatred. The children who represent different groups on both sides live in and around Jerusalem – less than twenty minutes from each other. BZ is the on-camera narrator who talks with the children about the conflict and their daily lives.

The idea of focusing on children opens up many facets in depicting the conflict: representing the future, they will either continue the conflict or find peace – they inherit the conflict, yet are still innocent. You can’t really take a standpoint against children. Does Promises then give us an idea of what the future will bring? The film tries hard to remain optimistic by stating that children are children who, if they meet, will eventually be able to overcome their hatred and make friends. That is BZ and Justine Shapiro’s project: they are on their own peace mission and want the kids to get together, Palestinians and Jews, so they can find out for themselves that they are alike and can make friends, which is the first step towards peace.

Do they succeed? Yes and no. They actually succeed in bringing some of the Palestinian and Israeli children together. After hearing their views about each other like ‘the more of them dead the better’, the meeting is a moving scene that only confirms that children are children and can always make friends.

The film was shot from 1997 to summer 2000, which was a relatively quiet period. Now that the conflict has accelerated, the idea that if they only meet everything will be fine seems somewhat naïve, which the filmmakers themselves suggest by revealing that the children haven’t ever met again despite all their promises. Still their optimism persists by choosing to end the film with a hospital scene of newborn babies, as if to say that even if it might be too late for the kids in the film, the babies still represent a hope for peace. Promises is a well-made and very present film, its major strength being BZ’s close contact with the children.


© EDN/ModernTimes (previously published in DOX Magazine).
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