Shalom Life | October 13, 2014

TIFF 2014: This Is My Land

Documentarian Tamara Erde takes us into six classrooms in Israel and Palestine to discover what children are being taught.

By: Anthony Marcusa

Published: September 16th, 2014 in Culture » Film » Reviews

TIFF 2014: This Is My Land

Taking an observational approach in what is a rather straightforward and mostly objective documentary, director Tamara Erde chronicles the school year at six classrooms in Israel and Palestine in This Is My Land. Her quest is simple: find out what and how children are being taught about the Middle East, and what is being ignored.

That Erde is acknowledging education can be used to both open young minds and indoctrinate them is of course nothing novel. It is however a particularly potent concern in the inflamed areas of the Middle East, where past conflicts and continued grudges inform the present and an uncertain future.

Alternating between Israeli and Palestinian classrooms, the Israeli-born and Paris-based Erde in her debut feature length documentary is patient and exacting, at times too much so. For many, this film won’t so much as to inform on anything new, but instead help start or at least continue a timely conversation.

The conceit in part hurts the documentary. If we grant that children can be swayed by teachers, politicians, and their parents, then when they are put in front of a camera, their responses may be easily influenced further. It’s the more unconventional teachers that Erde talks to, including one that teaches in an Israeli-Arab village with a textbook not approved by Israeli’s Ministry of Education (it names Palestine) that are most fascinating.

Erde’s earnest endeavor is met with forces beyond her control; she is after all tackling a subject so vast and complicated. She does well however to stay focused, focusing individually on a handful of schools before returning to them all at the end to offer some sort of conclusion.

Still, there is plenty to find interesting in Erde’s feature, especially when taking a look into a joint Israeli-Palestinian school taught by two teachers. While the female Arab instructor is interviewed at length, the male Israeli instructor is not, but we watch as both try to tweak and turn the lesson on the other.

In their discussions we witness moments of contention and even levity. As Erde points out the children indeed hold hope for peace and compromise in the future, but it’s the adults and teachers that have the power.

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