Guy Davidi’s ‘Innocence’ Evokes Young Lives Lost to Military Mentality

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In Israel, military service is mandatory. Director Guy Davidi, whose documentary “Innocence” premiered at the Venice Film Festival in the Horizons section, was enlisted too, but left after three months, just before the real service started. “I didn’t want to be a combatant, to hold a gun. I felt used, abused, like an instrument for the country. I already knew I was going to make films, did not have hopes to become a politician or a lawyer, so their threats did not have big weight. But for others getting a psychological evaluation and be released on psycho-mental grounds like I did is not an option,” he says.

“The other thing is that at this age if you’re not in the military, there’s nothing for you to do,” he adds. “Israel is not a place that values innocence. Our history as persecuted Jews, our enlightened democracy are both in use in our solid PR kit,” Davidi says. “If you challenge these ideas you immediately get accused of antisemitism.”

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In “Innocence,” the Oscar-nominated director of “Five Broken Cameras” takes this PR strategy apart. At the same time, he’s shedding light on stories of young Israelis who resisted enlistment but capitulated and died tragically. The film is narrated by actors, reading excerpts from real diaries. “I knew that I wanted to look for stories of soldiers who died, and had written their diaries in a very sensitive and beautiful way. It had to be someone who’s had deep crisis in their lives about service, [for whom] it was something against their values and beliefs. Some stories I chose are more contemporary, hence the soldiers are more aware of the Israeli occupation, some are less, so the awareness is less developed,” Davidi explains.

He enrolled in a difficult mission, and it took him many years and in-depth research to complete it. When you ask a bereaved parent to give you access to their child’s diary, they will not always welcome you with open arms. He says: “The reaction of the family was the biggest challenge. Some really wanted to cherish the memory and the beauty of the text and were happy for it to come out. For some families these stories end up in suicide, so it was more difficult. One mother told me: ‘This is like a bomb to me. If I open it, I don’t know if I can continue my life.’ ”

Figuring out which stories to use and then building the narrative was a very tough task.

There are two types of source material used in “Innocence”: that generated by the deceased soldiers, and footage from the military. “Doron had a beautiful archive from her childhood. Halil left images and text. Adam wrote mostly prose, not a diary, so we have him only as archive, not a talking voice. The military archives we use are only those shot by soldiers and are not directly connected to our protagonists. They serve more as an illustration of training, how it feels to be in the military.”

Davidi looked for dark moments to show how the military can sometimes feel like a nightmare. “The people who filmed it, I don’t think they thought about these images like that. Maybe it was fun for them? That’s why it is possible to access these archives at all: because the military thinks that it’s cool to see training, to see how strong we are. You go on YouTube and see soldiers with GoPro cameras filming their training holding a gun, like a computer game. This is how you sell the idea to the new generation or even to Jews around the world.”

Home videos of teenagers no longer living or recordings from training camps are haunting. But videos from kindergartens where children are constantly told they have to be strong shock as well.

“Who are we to know what strength is? Who are we to tell kids that if they are not strong, they will die? This is an ugly and disgusting thing,” Davidi says, shaking his head. “I felt that making a film from a perspective of sensitive and creative people, I am showing that objecting to violence is actually normal and smart, even practical, contrary to what we’re being constantly told.”

The film was created for parents to sharpen their sensitivity to their children and create a world that will embrace them, give space to their ideas, ambitions and dreams. “Parents putting their kids first is a huge political force. It can take dictatorships down, solve environmental issues and stop wars. Even in Israel, because it has already happened – the occupation of Lebanon was stopped thanks to a movement of mothers. I really believe in the power of care,” he says.

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