Tuesday, January 17, 2012

As a teenager, for a stint, I was obsessed with lucid dreams. There’s an exercise I used to do, in the half-hour of no-man’s-land between waking and sleep; a visualization game meant to strengthen whatever muscle we use in conscious dreaming. Picture the room you are in. Try to conjure up every detail, remembering, eyes shut, exactly where everything is, in relation to you. Then, once you’ve pulled up a clear picture, imagine yourself sleeping—or standing—in a different part of the same room. Switch the perspective.

It sounds relatively easy to do, but the brain’s instinctive ability to orient itself accurately in space makes visualizing any viewpoint other than our “real” one incredibly difficult to do. Try it. You’ll notice that, after a bit of struggle, there’s a jolting moment when you “click” in to the new perspective. Suddenly something gives, and you just see it.

Sunday night filmmaker Yariv Mozer meets up with me at the Olive café, to give me a copy of his feature documentary, “My First War,” and to answer any questions I might have about his work. Yariv’s sister-in-law has just had a baby this morning, and he’s headed to Holland for post-production on his next film tomorrow, yet he finds a full hour between hospital visits and packing, just to sit with me.

Yariv’s film, shot while he was actively fighting in the 2006 Lebanese war, follows 5 combatants and one Israeli journalist during and after the conflict. Its reception has been hugely varied depending on the audience. Many critics, especially internationally, see an implicit anti-war message in the film, as the traumatic effects of battle on the soldiers as well as their own misgivings about the conflict are brought to light. Others see its humanization of the IDF combatants as insidiously pushing a pro-Israeli agenda; while within the country, Yariv has been criticized for “exposing” Israel and betraying the country by “showing dissent and weakness.”

“And all of this is in response to the same film!” he says with a gentle smile. I think of my Mleeta blog fiasco and tell him I know the feeling. We spend our time together swapping stories, talking about the limitations and freedoms of our respective mediums, and sharing thoughts on where we hope to take things next. Yariv’s dream, he tells me, is to get into the same room with a Hezbolla fighter, to “discuss things,” on camera. I tell him “Good luck with that.”

The next evening I pop Yariv’s DVD into my computer and listen as his earnest narration guides us through the dirt roads linking Tel Aviv to the Northern border. As the landscape becomes pastoral and the plum trees pull into sight, I start to feel a displaced familiarity;
I’ve seen this landscape before…driving with my friend Karim, along the other side of the fence. The uneasy recognition continues as Yariv guides us through orchards, tents, and the tiny boxlike “war room” where men sit crouched together, tensely barking coordinates as incoming missiles explode in the woods around them. But it is when I see footage of a tank—an establishing shot locating it clearly amidst the recognizable fruit trees before cutting away to a conversation with the loader inside—that the world goes “click.” In a jolting flash, I’m suddenly seeing the exact same—terrifying—piece of machinery that sat ominously in the distance across Fatima’s Gate just 2 months ago. But now I’m inside of it, with my new friend Yariv.

I don’t think I can say much about that moment, except that it was accompanied with an overwhelming sense of sadness. No anger, no judgment, certainly no pat idea or clever epiphany about the “nature of things.” Just a simultaneous connection to two views of one thing that left me with an incredible and sustaining sadness.