Shalom Life | November 08, 2014

TIFF 2014: Interview With ‘This Is My Land’ Director, Tamara Erde

Erde discusses her documentary feature that screened at the Toronto International Film festival this past week.

By: Anthony Marcusa

Published: September 17th, 2014 in Culture » Film » Interviews

TIFF 2014: Interview With ‘This Is My Land’ Director, Tamara Erde

Herself a product of the Israeli education system, filmmaker Tarama Erde knows what is being taught about issues in the Middle East – as well as what isn’t being taught.

Possessive of a questioning spirit that blossomed in part by living in France for the past five years, Erde endeavored to return home and see if the educational process has at all changed, concerned that young children and future generations aren’t being instilled with curiosity and an inquisitive attitude.

“They are still teaching kids in a certain way in that they don’t open them up enough to be curious and ask enough questions,” said Erde during an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival. Her latest documentary, This Is My Land, finds the 32-year-old Tel Aviv native traveling to schools, talking to students and teachers about what is being taught concerning the history and politics of the region.

“It surprised me that it didn’t change enough since I was in school to today. We have the Internet and so much information around, there should be more issues discussed openly,” said Erde. Across the past school year, she followed some half-dozen classrooms – Israeli, Palestiniant – chronicling key events, trips, and historical observances and how the students and teachers responded.

“Though there is more information circling, people have become more and more self-centered,” she continued, citing an obsession with Facebook and other social media for personal promotion and mindless ephemera.

Erde credits her army service following high school to helping her developing her current, challenging attitude. She came to realize that her ‘side,’ Israeli students, was being taught a specific story. Palestinians too were being taught something selective, as the history of inflamed area was being only partially addressed.

The blame rests with governments and administrations unable or unwilling to change, as well as older generations instilling firm, unequivocal beliefs on their offspring. “The most profound and major change must be in the political and national level, we are not there yet in the Israeli and Palestine case.”

Erde, though, sees hope and catches it on camera in her documentary.

“I think there is a possibility of change; the children are ready. The only question is what do we give them? The responsibility is on us, on teachers, the Ministry of Education, to be willing to open up and not to be afraid to let them knew the other side, to have doubts in what we believe in, and make their own choices.”

At this year's festival, Erde may be noteworthy because she is a young, female, Jewish director, but she is first and foremost a documentarian. Thus, she explains she was exceedingly careful about the way in which she presented the story. Erde sought out classrooms that naturally featured lively and engaged figures, and made sure to identify that handful of teachers that were more unconventional.

“With the editing, you are really struggling with balance. I was asking myself many times if I was going too far one way, or if I’m including myself too much,” said Erde. Her previous works include fictional and documentary shorts, some of which are deeply personal, but her experiences as a filmmaker and an ex-pat have shaped this work. “If I was still living [in Israel], I wouldn’t choose to do this film. It was important for me to have distance and to look at this from another perspective, not from the inside.”

This is My Land gives the viewer both a look at the present day situation of classes in Israel and Palestine, but also some hope for the future. There are indeed those teachers and mentors fostering an inquisitive nature in children. While the situation is perhaps most dire in the Middle East, Erde attests that the message is universal, and everyone children should be taught to question everything.

“Living in France and talking to people about their education, I think it just showed me that these questions, which are of course are more explosive in the Israel-Palestine issue, are also relevant in other societies,” concluded Erde. “I think everywhere we should always put our education and our curriculum first and open it up more, dare to have kids ask different questions.”

“If we are teaching just what we believe in, and not opening up to any other possibility, I think we are just regressing in our society and the future.”

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