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Sonia Nettnin: Film Review - Ford Transit

Film Review: Ford Transit

By Sonia Nettnin

The final screening of FORD TRANSIT at the third annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival showed on Friday.

The documentary, directed by Hany Abu-Assad is about the people who commute in between Israeli military checkpoints via Ford mini-vans. The film - an 80-minute-journey – shows the people who live under military occupation. Moreover, it explores their points of view.

“The Fords have become the only way to get to work,” one man says.

Abu-Assad follows the life of driver, Rajai Khatib. In his early twenties, Rajai says he cannot stand working in one place. In a world full of roadblocks and checkpoints, he has freedom of movement. He enjoys the people. Despite the chaos, he creates his own stability by driving people to their destinations.

The white mini-vans look like ambulances, but are described as mini-buses. Four windows line both sides of the van and the back has two windows. Passengers enter and exit the van through a sliding door.

Once they reach the next checkpoint, they leave the vehicle. Then, people walk on dirt roads until they reach crowded lines. They stand under the searing sun. Alongside razor-wire fences and barbed-wire on the ground, people carry bags, belongings, furniture, and their children. Baby strollers are pushed over rocks. As Rajai pushes a passenger in a wheelchair over large rocks, the man covers his face. At one point, six men have to lift the ailing man in his wheelchair, over concrete stone blocks. The scenes at the checkpoints are everyday life for a people who are always showing their IDs.

“They’ll put us in reservations like Indians,” one man says.

Transportation of people prevents the reservation scenario. Regardless of physical barriers, people travel under harsh conditions. As the director documents the difficulties of travel for the Palestinian people, viewers have a clearer understanding of life with checkpoints, curfews and roadblocks.

The visual images complement the interviews with the passengers.

“When you are dehumanizing others, you are dehumanizing yourself,” says Palestinian politician and human rights advocate, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. “You have to abolish the siege and apartheid to create a new reality.”

In the heat, tempers flare between two men in the van. Beads of sweat are wiped from hairlines. The hours of standing in line while the sun burns foreheads wears human tolerance. Throughout the movie, the camera catches Rajai’s reaction to peoples’ responses to the questions. The camera films him from the side and in the rearview mirror.

As the director interviews Rajai, viewers find out Rajai’s real ambitions and his philosophy on life. His views about the conflict are expressed in a metaphor: “we’re the mop of the world.”

The habitual movement of transporting people in his mini-van creates security for Rajai, despite the challenging conditions. During a time of volatility, Rajai demonstrates stability through his profession.

This perception brings out the risk taker in Rajai, a Palestinian driver in the war torn West Bank. “To survive here, you have to risk your life,” he says. He warns another driver of gun shots by Israeli soldiers in certain areas. Tickets and fines are a part the occupation’s construction, so people are creative in their problem-solving…it is second nature.

The fear of breaking curfew is a constant worry. On his way to Ramallah, a man reaches a checkpoint after seven. “Will they let me through?” is the question in his mind, but in the minds of viewers as well. From a watchtower, an Israeli solder points his Uzi at the man while his finger hovers over the trigger. Everyone holds their breath. The scene draws the audience into the experience as if it were their own.

Moreover, music selection enhanced the experience of the film. A wide range of picks included Arabic songs and cowboy-western whistling (I believe it is the theme from THE GOOD, THE BAD and THE UGLY). Music included mariachi bands, oud solos, an organ and sometimes a mix of east and west (the twanging tones of a Jew’s harp accompanied the whistling). Throughout the drive, the music shows that destinations are never reached – people continue their travels under oppression. In the background are destroyed homes and narrow streets. The music maintains the momentum of feeling and the technique elicits emotion off the screen. Abu-Assad and his crew give the film another layer of experience.

One interview involved a doctor. He talked about the psychological makeup of suicide bombers. “The combination of a tortured past and future without perspective is explosive,” he says. He details the psychological phenomenon of reaction formation and addresses the conflict from a psychologist’s perspective. Before making decisions, political leaders should bring people like him to the table for discussion. Overall, the interviews involve a variety of people, which makes the film informative and interesting.

Abu-Assad’s filmography as director includes: AL QODS FEE YOM AKHAR 2002; RANA'S WEDDING 2002; Nazareth 2000; and 14ekippetje Het 1998). He won the Spirit of Freedom Award for best documentary at the 20th annual Jerusalem Film Festival. FORD TRANSIT was produced by Bero Beyer and the cameraman was Menno Westendorp.

FORD TRANSIT, an Augustus Film/VPRO Production, won the Fipresci Prize 2003 at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival.


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