When Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh saw Errol Morris’ riveting documentary The Fog of War, in which he interviews former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, he was inspired to make a film that would give viewers access to someone from his country’s inner circle. He wanted to speak directly to decision-makers, and he set his sights on the leaders of Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police. These powerful individuals have never spoken publicly, let alone spoken out, before. After several years of persuasion, planning, shooting, and editing, The Gatekeepers is opening in theaters—and already has the imprimatur of an Oscar nomination as Best Documentary Feature.
The Gatekeepers is a quietly powerful film; it doesn’t clobber you over the head. Yet from the moment you hear one of these former insiders admitting his misgivings over an act of violence he perpetrated, you can’t help but be drawn in. No matter where you stand on the issues facing Israel and Palestine, you can’t deny the qualifications of these interviewees to express informed opinions.
Each of the six men who led Israel’s equivalent of the CIA over the last thirty years is an individual. It’s left to us to draw our own conclusions about their distinctive personalities and how each one expresses himself. The cumulative effect of their candor is devastating. I don’t want to undermine the power of this film by describing or paraphrasing what they have to say.
Director and interviewer Moreh, a former cinematographer, uses archival footage and sophisticated computer-generated animation to illustrate many of the volatile incidents his subjects describe. Unlike most recreations in documentary films, these sequences seem chillingly real. Lives are at stake, and there is nothing more compelling than that.
The Gatekeepers has already caused a stir in Israel. Moreh wants to open a conversation about Israel’s role in the Middle East, and his film certainly does that. It is a remarkable piece of work.