At first glance, “The Gatekeepers” has all the makings of a good thriller film. A secret middle eastern intelligence organization that deals with terrorism from two different countries, and where only the identities of the head persons are known to the public. Sounds like a cross between a thriller and Syriana. Except, that it’s a documentary. There are two movies about terrorism this awards season, both nominated for Oscars. I’m inclined to think the “The Gatekeepers” is the better of the two.
Writer-director Dror Moreh did something that has never been done before: he interviewed the six surviving heads of Shin Bet, also known as the Israeli Security Agency. Chronicling 1980-2011, the film covers many events – the Kav 300 affair, the six-day war, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and the Oslo Accords. The Palestinian Issue, although a factor, was not talked about or addressed in detail until the latter part of the film.
While initially having difficulty contacting the gentlemen, Moreh reached out to Ami Ayalon (head from 1996-2001) who then helped the director get in touch with the remaining surviving leaders. Each of them had very different styles of speaking, political viewpoints and regrets about their actions. One thing is clear: most of them do not seem to fans of current leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. As for the Palestinian issue, it’s complicated, but all six agree that a continued dialogue and discussion is what is needed.
The film itself is very well done. While initially reluctant to discuss many events of their tenure (most notably the eerily amoral Avraham Shalom – leader 1980-1986), with some gentle and polite prodding from Moreh they eventually open up. The most fascinating part for me was listening to how they described some of the killing and assassinations that were ordered under their watch. 1994-1996 head Carmi Gillon expressed many regrets during his tenure (most notably the assassination of former PM Rabin, which Gillon said he saw coming) and the collateral damage that came with a certain ordered hit. Meanwhile, Shalom was much more succinct, simply saying “there is no morality in terrorism.” Like any documentary should, it makes an audience member watching it, really think about their morals, views, and choices.
My main issue with the film was its pace. It clocks in at 95 minutes, pretty average for a film. To me, it felt like a pretty slow 95 minutes – perhaps that was to do with the interview style of the movie, rather than the more investigate journalism type of film that so often comes from making a documentary. Nonetheless, a well-done and brave movie.
The Gatekeepers is in Hebrew with English subtitles and is nominated for Best Feature Documentary at the 85th Annual Academy Awards.