HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto) – Soldier/Citizen Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto)


Directed by Silvina Landsmann

After three years of mandatory military service, a group of Israeli soldiers are informed that they will have to take certain classes to graduate high school. A higher ranking officer, no older than the ones he’s supervising, tells this group that there are harder classes like seven or nine week math courses. Some of these young adults become nameless subjects of the documentary Soldier/Citizen, who have to take a three week civics class. And even from someone who has armchair knowledge of Israeli and Middle Eastern politics, three weeks are not enough.

For most of this festival two elements have been important to me in liking what I’m watching and I’m sure this is applicable to both documentaries and fictional films. I have to like the way the subjects are portrayed and it really helps if I like the subjects themselves. Admittedly, certain prejudices hold me back. First of all is my leftist stance to be wary of the Israeli government’s activities and policies while treating the Palestinian inhabitants of their country, despite knowing that there are Palestinian individuals who are anti-Israel. Second is ageism, that I’m assuming that twenty year-olds’ perspectives are innately uninformed about politics, even thinking that their firsthand experience with the conflicts aren’t valid information to support their opinions. Which they are.

There’s the teacher who, despite being a liberal apologist, still has gaps in his lesson plans that would make his students understand the concept of human rights more fully. There are also his students, a few radical and many moderate, who show slivers of hope in understanding the Palestinian side of the conflict. Although I’m not sure if it matters if I fully like or dislike the movie’s subjects for reasons I stated above. It makes it uniquely palatable and informative on seeing the Middle Eastern conflict on their personal level and accepts what they already know – that both war and peace can’t solve all of the problems of a conflict between two religions. Or at least, not yet.

Soldier/Citizen is shot on full screen instead of the widescreen format that has dominated in this year’s Hot Docs. The camera is also passive and voiceover-less, not just bound to the classroom but during the soldiers’ intimate yet mundane moments of their pre-graduation bliss. For example there’s a scene when we watch a young soldier dance to his iPod’s music, as Silvina Landsmann gives the soldiers and her audience time to breathe. Stylistically these elements give the movie a DIY feel but it also makes sense with its claustrophobia, its raging voices, and its yearning for the reason we all desire.

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