‘The Wanted 18’: Toronto Review

The Wanted 18
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
This endearing film should travel and find cozy, hay-lined stalls with specialist distributors

Mixing documentary, stop-motion animation and re-enactment, ‘The Wanted 18’ offers an unexpectedly humorous account of one town's experience of the first Intifada

A winning mix of documentary, stop-motion animation and re-enactment,The Wanted 18  offers an unexpectedly humorous account of one town's experience of the first Intifada, a subject that doesn't usually generate a lot of laughs in cinema. A collaboration between debutant Palestinian Amer Shomali and experienced doc- and feature-maker Paul Cowan (Paris 1919), it recounts the true story of how the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem acquired a herd of 18 dairy cows and then had to hide them from the Israeli security forces when their existence was absurdly deemed a threat to national security. Although it's not likely to milk millions out of any box-office, this endearing film should travel to further fests and is likely to find cozy, hay-lined stalls with specialist distributors.

Opening on an entirely justified personal note, co-director Shomali is seen walking in the Israeli desert while his voiceover narration explains how he first came across the story of the 18 cows in a comic book when he was growing up in a Syrian refugee camp. Then a mixture of interviews with those involved in the events of the time, archive footage, and charmingly old-school black-and-white animation showing the story from the cows' point of view (voiced by Alison Darcy, Heidi Foss, Rosann Nerenberg and Holly Uloth "O'Brien")  kicks in to unpack the story.

It turns out that at a time of growing radicalization among the Palestinian community in the 1980s, the citizens of Beit Sahour decided they were sick of being forced to purchase milk from Israeli companies and in a quest for great self-sufficiency bought a herd of cows. They barely had an idea about how to care for them or even milk them, but they worked out the basics and the herd grew when one pregnant heifer gave birth (a real "aw" moment in the movie).

But as protests in the streets broke out and relations with the Israeli military grew increasingly hostile, the state found innovative new ways to repress the locals. Orders went out to impound the cows, but the Palestinians devised ways to keep them hidden in the neighborhood, even stashing them, ironically, at the house of the local butcher.

The tale comes together nicely as perspective switches back and forth between the different interviewees and the cows who have a cuddly squishy texture, like early Aardman animation. Benoit Charest's jaunty soundtrack further jollies things along, enhancing the playful mood. As if to add some kind of gravitas, the lighting for the interviews is moody and murky, as if the subjects were witnesses to some lurid crime, a decision that's a little jarring.                

Production companies: An Intuitive Pictures production in co-production with the National Film Board of Canada, Bellota Films

Cast: Amer Shomali, Alison Darcy, Heidi Foss, Rosann Nerenberg,, Holly Uloth “O’Brien”, Jalal Qumsieh, Jad Ishaq, Elias Rishmawi, Ayman Abu Al Zulof, Nassim Hilal, Saed Andoni, Ehud Zrahiya, Majed Nassar, Salim Jaber, Husam Jurban, Samira Shomali, Ghasan Andoni, Naji Musleh, Shaltiel Levi, Siham Taweel, Virginia Saad, Makram Saad

Directors: Amer Shomali, Paul Cowan

Screenwriter: Paul Cowan

Producers: Ina Fichman, Nathalie Cloutier

Executive producer: Colette Loumede

Directors of photography: Daniel Villeneuve, German Gutierrez

Editors: Aube Foglia

Music: Benoit Charest

Animaton design director: Michelle Lannen

Animation artistic director: Dominique Cote

Principal animator: Myriam Elda Arsenault

Sales: The National Film Board of Canada


PG rating, 75 minutes