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BERLINALE 2021 Forum

Avi Mograbi • Director of The First 54 Years: An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation

"We have an election coming in two weeks and nobody talks about the occupation"


- BERLINALE 2021: We talked to the prolific Israeli filmmaker about his latest film, in which Israeli witnesses report on the mechanisms of oppression of Palestinians from 1967 to the present day

Avi Mograbi  • Director of The First 54 Years: An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation
(© Jose Kattán)

In The First 54 Years: An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation [+see also:
film review
interview: Avi Mograbi
film profile
, which had its world premiere in the Berlinale's Forum section, Israeli filmmaker Avi Mograbi contextualises testimonies from former soldiers in the Occupied Territories into an intriguing and insightful documentary.

Cineuropa: How did you decide to break down and analyse the occupation of Palestinian territories, and place it in this wider context?
Avi Mograbi:
The decision came from the testimonies themselves. I had in front of me the whole archive collected by Breaking the Silence, which is an organisation of veteran Israeli soldiers whose mission is to make the occupation visible again to Israelis and others. All Israeli governments so far have succeeded in making the occupation mostly invisible. For us Israelis, it's very clear: we have an election campaign coming in two weeks, and nobody talks about the occupation.

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So I started looking for a way to make a large-scope story from the archive, and I started by connecting testimonies through the three periods: 1967-1987, 1987-2000 and 2000-now. Within the chronological theme, I also tried to make connections between individual, single testimonies that were dealing with similar issues and mechanisms or procedures. But I realised that, without some kind of moderation, a viewer who's not an expert on Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israeli occupation of territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip might get lost. Really, just watching testimonies one after another is for people who are addicted to occupation as a theme and who also know a lot, and they would be able to make the abstract themselves.

This is how The Manual was born, because I realised that those testimonies that were related to one another, were signalling certain methods, certain mechanisms and approaches that served certain goals. These were not made just in order to torture the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, nobody thinks this is the main purpose of the occupation. This is how, in order to make testimonies more accessible to a general audience, the idea to create a manual that would organise all those testimonies under a certain logic, was born.

How did you decide to take on the role of the narrator yourself?
Once the concept of manual was conceived, I thought there was a need for a narrator, an instructor. Normally, when you see cooking shows on YouTube, there is a person who cooks the dish in front of you. And normally this person is a cook. Having done some research and realised that none of the cooks of the occupation, none of those who created the occupation and conceived its goals and methods, were likely to want to collaborate on this project, I decided that I would be the instructor. Then it took a lot of work writing the text, shooting it again and again and rewriting and re-editing.

What was the hardest part of the process and how long did it take you to make the film?
All in all, the project took about two and half years. Probably the most difficult part was to depart from the idea that the testimonies by themselves, without any moderation or intervention, could make a film. They could definitely make an interesting film, but for a very limited audience — people who know how to suffer in the cinema. And this was not the idea, the idea was to make those testimonies accessible to a wider audience. So this was a difficult process and it took some time but eventually I think I reached a solution that I'm very happy with.

How do you expect your film to be received in Israel, and what are your hopes for the future?
I've been making film since late 1980s, and most of them have been critical of Israeli society or policy, and definitely most of them deal with Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My films sadly enough have not been seen by many Israelis, I'm probably more known in Europe than at home. Most of them were broadcast on TV, but on really tiny documentary cable channels that don't have high ratings. None of them were released in cinemas, and I don't think this one will be either, regardless of the pandemic. Hopefully one of the Israeli festivals will select it, but considering that it has no broadcaster in Israel, I guess we'll have to do a social media campaign in order to make it reachable for those who want to watch it.

My hope is that, one day, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river, every person will have the right to vote and decide on the system of the regime that they are living in. Right now, nine million Israelis have the right to vote concerning a government that determines the lives of five million Palestinians who don't have voting rights. I hope that this will happen under whatever kind of arrangement, and I hope to be there for it.

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