Experimental doc turns Irish filmmaker into a Zionist
June 25, 2012 | Joanne Hill - Correspondent
TORONTO-MONTREAL – Irish filmmaker Nicky Larkin was peppered with critiques and questions following screenings of his documentary, Forty Shades of Grey, last week in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto.
Larkin, who said he “came out as a Zionist” earlier this year, engaged with audiences after showings of his experimental film, which were co-sponsored by the Free Thinking Film Society, and B’nai Brith Canada and in Montreal also Chabad of the Town.
The young artist took the criticism – which ran along the lines of, “What’s with all the horrible noise? It almost drove me up the wall,” and “Why didn’t you have subtitles? I couldn’t understand what people were saying half the time” – in his stride.
He reminded the audience in Toronto what he had told them before the screening: “I’m just going to warn you that it is an experimental film, it’s not a traditional documentary. It’s designed to irritate and annoy the s**t out of you, to make you really uncomfortable, because I wanted to replicate the tension and the uncomfortable experience of being in Israel and the West Bank.
“It’s not that easy to stay in your seat in Israel, either, when you have rockets flying in at you and you’re getting fired at with rubber bullets and tear gas.”
The film gives a visual and aural impression of Larkin’s experiences during the eight weeks that he spent filming in Israel and the West Bank last year.
It features interviews and street scenes but is not presented in a typical straightforward narrative.
The filmmaker’s opinions are never expressed; he lets the interviewees do the talking without editorializing.
However, the patient viewer – who pays attention and allows himself to be drawn in by the hypnotic soundscape – might absorb some of the reasons Larkin, who started the project with an anti-Israel bias, ended it as a Zionist: the Palestinians’ glorification of suicide murderers as martyrs, their incessant competition for victim status and their seeming inability to extricate themselves from ghettos of their own making are contrasted with intelligent soul-searching on the part of Israelis who hold a wide range of views about their country.
African refugees, whose experiences in Israel have not been easy, are also given a voice.
Larkin said his change from anti-Zionist to Zionist was gradual.
It began with his interactions with Israelis and Palestinians and was reinforced during an intensive eight months of editing his video. Earlier this year, he wrote two pro-Israel articles, which were published in major Irish newspapers, and turned the national conversation in a different direction. Others have subsequently written articles “starting to challenge this automatic anti-Israel bias that we have in Ireland,” he said.
“And all of a sudden, just a month ago, this Israeli flag starts flying just outside Dublin City Centre, outside a pub in Dublin. While I don’t want to completely take the credit for that, I think I started the ball rolling, really just kind of opened the debate that had been completely closed.
“And while it’s not to say that every Irish person has suddenly become a Zionist – far from it – but at least they’re thinking about it. At least they’re kind of questioning what they once would just not have questioned.”
While some of the Canadians who filled the auditoriums in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto may have been more intrigued by the story behind the documentary than the film itself, Forty Shades of Grey, Larkin said, “is going to be seen by an audience that just would simply not watch a Zionist propaganda film and it’s giving Israelis a voice in Europe that they didn’t have before.”
The best artists challenge themselves and others to see the world in a different way. Larkin has succeeded in doing that with his film and his articles and doubtless will continue to do so throughout his career.
– with files from Linda Zlatkin