Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir didn’t really want to make yet another film about the occupation. But the need to see for himself made him visit the two hundred checkpoints in the territories occupied by Israel. This resulted in the documentary “Checkpoint”, which won the Juris Ivens Award at the IDFA 2003 and is the first film ever to be used in the Israeli army’s training program. DOX met the filmmaker in Thessaloniki.

“It was amazing. I was surprised that it even got into the competition, I never thought it would travel outside Israel,” Shamir says about the Amsterdam experience.

Checkpoint was also presented at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, and Shamir reveals that he enjoys being in a place where he can relax.

“In Israel there’s tension all the time. Seriously, I didn’t take a bus in four years. I ride on my bike and motorcycle, I don’t get near a bus stop and I don’t feel comfortable sitting in a restaurant or coffee shop. There is constant fear and pressure,” he explains.

Checkpoint was made during 2001 and 2003. Shamir and his driver drove around the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza in a bulletproof jeep searching out the checkpoints that don’t feature on any map.

704560198“I know there’s a master plan, but the army won’t tell you where it is. I wasn’t interested in the most remote checkpoints. Depending on which soldiers were there, who would make good characters, I found out where I wanted to go and who to film. So it was like going along without any definite plan.”

Operating the camera and the sound himself, Shamir filmed the passage of the Palestinians through the checkpoints and the way the Israeli soldiers deal with them. The dramas that take place when the young Israeli soldiers harass and humiliate the Palestinians and make them wait for hours or finally let a Palestinian through after lots of arguing often turn into completely absurd situations. It’s clear that the young soldiers have difficulty tackling the exercise of authority over the Palestinians. For no apparent reason they change their decisions from a flat no to a yes. As a result of the occupation these confrontations take place every day.

“I just had to make a statement about it, just as much as I would like to avoid it and be an ‘escapist’. I’m not a political person, I’ve never been to a demonstration, I don’t have that kind of background,” Shamir explains. “I don’t like people telling me what to think. I want to see for myself and that is very different from what you see in the news.”

Vérité Approach

“Obviously the presence of the camera has an influence, it’s naive to think otherwise. Because I spent so many days and hours over there, I became an insider. In some cases, the camera did make it easier for the Palestinians, but in others it didn’t, because the soldiers wanted to make it more difficult for them. But altogether I think there’s a balance”, Shamir says.

A Palestinian man cries as he holds the dead body of his young brother shortly after he was killed

“It was a very hard job, I wouldn’t want to do it again. I had to be so devoted and ‘obsessive’ about it and to take the time to do it. Many things happened, people kicked my camera etc. but I didn’t want it to be in the film, because the film is not about me, it’s not a reflexive film.”

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