By Jordan Heath-Rawlings
“To me, this trip was like a course in philosophy,” says Ryerson image arts graduate Elad Winkler, describing the journey to Israel that produced his short film, Conflict — which took first prize at the Student Shorts 2002 festival on Saturday night.
That philosophy shines through in Conflict, which examines the mentality of Israeli and Palestinian nationalists in the Middle East struggle through interviews and media footage.
In the 36-minute film, Winkler paints a portrait of not just a conflict, but of the ingrained and opposite viewpoints of two sides that seem so wrapped up in a culture of violence and retribution that there is little hope for peace in the future.
Conflict interview grizzled survivors of Mideast violence who express little hope that things will change. Politicians from the two states swap rhetoric through the lens of a small, digital Canon GL-1 that Winkler used to shoot the documentary.
Winkler also focuses on youth, in the form of a teenage Israeli girl and young Palestinians in the remains of a West Bank town. The youth have almost given up on peace for their generation and are now hoping that their children will live to see a peaceful Middle East — much the way their parents once hoped for them.
Winkler shot 20 hours of film over two weeks while he was visiting extended family and traveling in the region. His cousin, who works at a local Israeli television station, was able to get him access to politicians in the region.
But Conflict is carried by civilian voices: Civilians who seem beaten down by the violence, civilians who are ready to spout hatred and the word of God in the same sentence and civilians who pound on the cover of the Torah and scream at the Palestinians across the street to “Just read this! You can’t read this can you?”
Where did Winkler find them?
“I just walked around the streets and filmed,” he says.
Winkler says the media reports of the region portray an atmosphere where a bomb goes off every few seconds. But the reality is that the atmosphere is charged, but not quite as dangerous as it’s made out to be.
“Once you adapt to the life [in Israel], you can see it’s not quite the way it is reported to be,” he says.
Even so, Winkler says he would not live in Israel, which he left as a child in 1989, even though he has family here.
“It’s a much easier lifestyle here,” he says. “It’s obviously a lot calmer [in Canada].”
The serious, CNN-style documentary took much of the Student Shorts audience by surprise when it debuted as the last film on the program on the last night of the two-day festival.
It’s taken other festivals by surprise as well, winning first prize in the Montreal World Student film festival and making the semi-finals of the Angelus awards for short films in Hollywood, Ca.
“I knew right away when Elad came back with his footage that we had something special,” says Ryan Silverman, another image arts graduate who produced Conflict.
Winkler and Silverman have started their own production company, Quicksilver Films, and are taking aim at television commercials and corporate films to raise money and finance future documentaries.
“Television commercials pay the bills,” Silverman says. “Ideally, they [will] make us a lot of money and that allows us to continue making documentaries.
“The thing about [documentaries like Conflict] is that even if it gets recognition, it’s never going to make you much money.”
Appearing at the Toronto festival after a series of seven shorts that ranged from the bizarre to the surreal, Conflict was a harsh dose of carefully crafted reality.
Silverman says he’s pleased the documentary came across as the most serious film in the festival.
“This industry is about money and dollars,” he says. “Nobody’s going to give money to someone they can’t trust to be serious.”