'The Settlers': Sundance Review

The Settlers still 3 - H 2016
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
A provocative doc.

Former Israeli Navy Seal and filmmaker Shimon Dotan's pic takes a hard look at Israel's West Bank settlements.

Former Israeli Navy Seal and filmmaker Shimon Dotan has delivered a ticking encapsulation of the never-ending conflicts revolving around the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Controversial before it was even filmed, this comprehensive examination of these settlement communities, which sprang up after the 1967 Six-Day War and now are home to hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers amid a Palestinian population, is certain to ignite spirited debate. Playing in the World Cinema Documentary Competition at Sundance, The Settlers received solid applause from a full-house audience.

Most mainstream TV news viewers only know the surface savagery of the unending Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but Dotan traces it from the birth of modern-day Israel in 1948 to the present. Settlers delineates the historical trigger points that inflamed the back-and-forth fighting. The doc includes the gestation of the first venture in 1968, when Rabbi Moshe Levinger lead a clandestine group of settlers into Jerusalem. That small group has now exploded into settlements whose total populations number in the hundreds of thousands.

Dotan details the historical, political and religious aspects of the “settlement” quandary, such as the Yom Kippur war of 1973, when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel because of the latter's refusal to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders. Undeniably, the settlements have mutated and now are influenced by, among other things, sheer real-estate opportunity. Like Los Angelenos moving to the San Fernando Valley for cheaper housing, so, too, the settlements now attract Israelis who wish to escape their cramped, expensive dwellings on the coast. Further obscuring the religious reasons for the establishment of the settlements has been an influx of “hippie” types who do their thing amid a surreal militaristic setting.

Stylistically, The Settlers is crisp: It's an intelligent blend of interviews, historical exposition and newsreel footage. Overall, it's a pessimistic picture in which Dotan posits that a relatively small group of extremists controls the future and thwarts the possibility of lasting peace.

Further amplifying the sense of futility of resolving the settlement conflict is Ray Fabi's dissonant musical score, a dire wail of desperation.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema Documentary)
Production companies: Les Films du Poisson,
 Talisma Prods., Filmoption International
 Shimon Dotan
Producers: Estelle
 Fialon, Jonathan Aroch, Paul Cadieux, Shimon Dotan
Executive producers:
 Philippa Kowarsky, Charles Ferguson, Maryse Rouillard
 Oron Adar
Cinematographer: Philippe
Music: Ray

Not rated, 110 minutes