Documentary Films | 2016 | 90 minutes
Stranger Says: This documentary about Palestinians who survived torturous incarcerations in an Israeli detention center is part talk therapy, part meta art film, and part Stanford Prison Experiment—and, unfortunately, seems to come with even more ethical baggage than the infamous psychological study. Raed Andoni’s direction (which won him best documentary at Berlinale) seems unnecessarily cruel, asking participants to play the roles of prisoner and interrogator as they act out violent and traumatic scenes. Worse, Andoni thinks he is helping them. The brutish reenactments complicate and dilute the already devastating pain you can hear in the voices of the actors as they tell stories about their lives.
SIFF Says:Director Raed Andoni (who previously made the Sundance-nominated 2009 documentary Fix Me) places a newspaper advertisement in Ramallah looking for former inmates of the infamous al-Moskobiya interrogation and detention center in Jerusalem. In his ad, he also specifies that respondents should have experience as craftsmen, architects, or actors. Together with those selected, Andoni begins construction of a replica of the center’s interrogation rooms and cells to be built to scale inside a large warehouse in Ramallah, based on the recollections of the former prisoners. In this realistic setting, the men subsequently re-enact their interrogations and seek to process long-repressed memories and unresolved trauma in a bid for some semblance of catharsis. Part improvised docudrama and part group-therapy session, the experience involves angry eruptions, wrenching confessions, and minor outbursts of violence―some staged, others real. (A psychologist was present on set to monitor the cast and crew.) Andoni himself participates both in front of and behind the camera, as he tries to come to terms with his own detention and torture at the prison some 30 years prior.
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