Touch the Nerve
Amos Gitai, born in 1950 in Haifa, Israel, has now made more than 40 documentary and fiction films. His works largely explore aspects of contemporary Jewish history and life intending, above all, to touch a "nerve" of Israel, a country which, in his view, left an "age of innocence" behind it after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. His documentaries and features employ a variety of techniques, including sudden changes in perspective, to question the existence of an objective truth. As he said in an interview: "I do not make objective images. I don’t believe in them. As individuals we perceive the world according to our position within a network of images. We are surrounded by images that are all subjective…“. (Cinematoscope, 2000)
Amos Gitai was studying architecture when the 1973 Yom Kippur War broke out, and he soon found himself flying helicopter missions for a rescue team. In a 2003 BBC interview, he commented that like most of his generation he was "drawn into" the war. Just a few weeks after he entered the war, his helicopter was hit by a Syrian missile and crashed. Gitai survived and started using a Super 8 camera – a birthday present from his mother – to document the war, recording it initially in single, short abstract shots. Despite later returning to university to complete a doctorate in architecture, Gitai dismissed his studies as "too formal an exercise for me", adding that it might be interesting in another country, another life (ibid.). He still regards the helicopter crash as a decisive turning point in his life.
By the late 1970s and early 80s Gitai had produced a series of documentaries, including some for Israeli TV. In 1983, after several of his films had been banned in Israel for their lack of positive bias or their "pro-Arab" stance, he went to live in France, where he stayed for the next ten years. A number of his works from this period move completely away from the traumatic event that triggered his film career - for instance in his 1983 documentary ‘Pineapples’, recounting how the fruit is produced and marketed. His music film ‘Brand New Day’, which follows Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics on their tour of Japan, also dates from the same year. Gitai´s other works during his time in France, such as ‘Berlin-Jerusalem’ (1989) and his first feature, ‘Golem – the Spirit of Exile’ (1991), explore the topic of ´homeland and exile´ in various forms.
But even before Gitai went back to Haifa in the mid-1990s, he returned to the concerns of war and violence that had so coined his early works. The first part of his trilogy on neo-fascism, ‘In the Valley of the Wupper’ (1993), documents the case of an old man in Wuppertal, Germany, in the early 1990s, abused by neo-Nazis as a "Jew" before they poured schnapps over him and set him on fire. The images of ‘In the Valley of the Wupper’ offer no simple answer to neo-fascist violence. By interviewing German neo-Nazis, Gitai gave them an individual face. Without directly referencing the past, his work evokes a historical continuum – for instance, by repeating images awakening associations with Nazi deportations.
Gitai´s return to Israel in the mid-1990s marked the start of new creative period generating ten documentaries and features over the next ten years. His first film in this phase, the 1997 ‘War Memories’, saw Gitai confronting his traumatic experiences in the Yom Kippur War, a theme he returned to in his two-hour movie ‘Kippur’, produced in 2000 after the conclusion of the peace negotiations between Israel, Syria and Egypt. ‘Kippur’ combines slow, static shots of the destruction in the war with fast edits of similar scenes from the perspectives of the two protagonists, making the experience of anonymous modern warfare accessible to the audience. Gitai´s images of an abstract, virtual opponent contrast sharply with the portrayal of the enemy in conventional films in this genre and, similarly, his two protagonists do not transform into heroes. According to the film critic Fred Camper, in ‘Kippur’ no-one takes charge, and war is not so much hell as unmitigated chaos (The Chicago Reader online feature, 2005).
When Gitai was asked about the reasons why he makes films, he replied that each movie is an attempt "to touch a nerve of this country" which left an "age of innocence" behind it after the 1973 Yom Kippur War (BBC, 2003). Gitai has tried to touch that nerve in different ways. Some films seem macabre, evidencing an eccentric sense of humour. For example, in the 1993 film ‘Golem – the Petrified Garden’, an art dealer takes a vast stone hand back to Siberia, to Stalin´s ‘Jewish homeland’ of Birobidzhan, to try and find the other lost parts of the monumental sculpture. But whatever means he uses, Gitai does it because he believes "…you have to say certain things that need to be said, and they need to be put in cinematic form, and why not you?“ (ibid.).
The director Amos Gitai was born in Haifa, Israel, in 1950. Gitai studied architecture in his home country until his studies were interrupted by the Yom Kippur War (1973). While he was doing military service in a rescue helicopter team, he started filming with a Super 8 camera, documenting the situation in Israel. His helicopter came under fire and crashed. He then decided to devote himself to film. Gitai’s works are sometimes fictional and funny, as well as critical and explosive. His latest films are ´Promised Land´ (2004) and ´Free Zone´ (2005).
Film / TV
Feature. FREE ZONE
Feature. PROMISED LAND
Documentary. WADI GRAND CANYON
Documentary. A HOUSE IN JERUSALEM
Documentary. ZION; AUTO-EMANCIPATION
Feature. YOM YOUM (Day after Day)
Docudrama. WAR AND PEACE IN VESOUL
Documentary. THE ARENA OF MURDER
Theatre/Documentary. MILIM (Words)
Feature. DEVARIM (Things)
Documentary. IN THE NAME OF THE DUCE
Documentary. GIVE PEACE A CHANCE
Documentary. QUEEN MARY
Feature. THE PETRIFIED GARDEN
Documentary/Theatre. THE WAR OF THE SON OF LIGHT AGAINST THE SONS OF DARKNESS
Documentary. IN THE VALLEY OF THE WUPPER
Documentary. KIPPUR WAR MEMORIES
Documentary/Theatre. METAMORPHOSIS OF A MELODY
Feature. GOLEM, THE SPIRIT OF EXILE
Documentary. WADI, TEN YEARS LATER
Docu-drama. BIRTH OF A GOLEM
Musical documentary. BRAND NEW DAY
Documentary. BANGKOK-BAHRAIN (Labour for Sale)
Documentary. ANANAS (Pineapples)
Documentary. FIELD DIARY
Documentary. IN SEARCH OF IDENTITY
Documentary. AMERICAN MYTHOLOGIES
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
Moving Images and the Promised Lands
(02 December 05 - 18 December 05)