Avi Mograbi: Between Fences

There is a lot of good mood in this new film by Avi Mograbi – as there always is in films by this great Israeli filmmaker, who in his films for decades has raised a critical voice to the way politics and human rights are dealt with in his country. They have a good time being together, the asylum- seekers from Eritrea and Sudan, who with theatre director Chen Alon, cameraman Philippe Bellaiche and Mograbi himself – doing the sound, moving around with a boomstick – perform scenes from their own lives, from where they come from and from the absurd situation they are in now. Playing the scenes, thus staging their own lives, could make them politically active as well as have them express their own frustrations and traumas. That is the philosophy.

They are near Holot, a detention centre in Israel close to the Egyptian border, they can not be sent back to their home countries, where they would be persecuted – and they can not go to Tel Aviv because the Israelis don’t want them and consider them to be ”dangerous infiltrators”, as it is stated in the synopsis of the film.

The theatre scenes in good mood, but with no optimism, are in

general perfomed by a handful of detainees, in the time between the roll calls of Holot three times per day. Which makes them de facto, as they state it, live in a prison. If they are not there for the roll calls they might be transferred to Saharonim, a ”real” prison with no permission to leave.

The good mood of the theatre scenes stops with the individual talks, the monologues from some of the refugees, who tell stories of murder, torture, hunger… and about escaping into Israel from Egypt, being caught by Israeli soldiers, being sent back again, crossing the border several times. It’s crazy and humiliating and against any human right convention.

”We don’t want your country, because you don’t want us”, is one sentence. Another person talks about facing racism if you get into Tel Aviv as a black man – and when the Holot is announced to be closed, a couple of the refugees say that they will stay here anyway; there is no home to go back to, there is no future for them in Israel.

In the film Avi Mograbi is present at a strike in June 2014 by the refugees, who are confronted with Israeli military. You see him stand behind a fence having a conversation with a man inside Holot – are you fasting, he asks, are you being treated well etc. You sense the frustration by the director who, in one of the theatre scenes, regrets that he can not get into Holot to film and you have the feeling of hopelessness from not only those, who are stuck in this isolated location in the desert, but also from Mograbi himself, who with Chen Alon try to do something good but know that what they do – for very few – is a drop in an ocean of aggression and lack of humanity. As a response you can only say, like I do here, yes, but you do something, you point at an injustice, you raise your voices on behalf of people in need. And you do so through a cinematic combination of emotion and information. As a viewer you watch, listen and read the many texts on the screen, you shake your head…

France/Israel, 2016, 85 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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