The movie follows 7 Israeli and Palestinian children around, and looks at the conflict through their experiences. It tells their story.
Last year, my students had the opportunity to interview Sanabel, one of the children from the film. (Read interview.)
This year, we had the opportunity to be part of a video chat (google hangout) with the internationally acclaimed director of the film, Justine Shapiro.
She gave us some insights to the film Promises, the process of making documentary film in general, as well as thoughts on the on-going Israeli/Palestinian Conflict. She also mentioned the importance of being articulate, the importance of foreign language studies, and why her son was wearing a Mexican soccer jersey in the documentary Our Summer in Tehran. (Watch trailer.)
(For language arts teachers)
"...And really, that was the question. Who's articulate? Who can express something of themselves, and something of their experience with words. Because we're making a film, right? It could be that... I'm sure that all of you - every single one of you - is expressive in your own way. But when you're making a film, you need kids who are expressive with words..." (12:00)
(For foreign language teachers)
-On the importance of learning a foreign language:
"I think it is probably one of the most important things one could learn." (21:10)
"...It was only when I decided, okay. I'm gonna take a French class. I'm gonna make myself read a half an hour a day. And I'm gonna make myself TALK. I'm gonna talk to people. I'm gonna make a lot of mistakes. They're gonna be mean to me. But I'm gonna talk. And I did. And that's when I started learning French. And then... I'd say my French is fantastic now, because I got so much foundation in school - even though I didn't really think I got it - that foundation actually ended up helping me a lot.
So for those of you who are struggling in your language at school - you're getting more than you realize you're getting. But don't give up, because if you go and spend time in a place where they speak that language, you will learn to speak it. And it's INCREDIBLE speaking another language. It really is. It just - it opens your mind up in so many ways."
(An update on Shlomo)
-On why Sholmo didn't appear in the updates:
"...Shlomo had left the Orthodox community. And I think that he was probably in the interim - sort of the interim stages of trying to figure out whether or not he was part of the Orthodox community or not - And I think that's why he - you know - ultimately why he wasn't in the film." (31:00)
(The Ambiguity of the film)
"...What did you think the scene (burping scene) was about? And there isn't one answer. And that's really why... When you read a great book, or you watch a film that you think is... that sticks with you... It's probably because there are scenes like that - that provoke questions.
"You know sometimes, I know it's very satisfying to have answers, but as you grow up one of the things you learn is to just be comfortable with the questions and with the ambiguity. Because, there's very little certainty in life. There's very little that's black and white. And so we put that scene in there because it's about a lot of different things." (9:00)
(On bias, being overly-opinionated, and ambiguity)
"What I realized in the process of making the film is that you can hold more than one opinion in your hand. Right? That's really important. We all feel like we have to choose sides. Or we have this binary way of thinking: this or that; right or wrong; black or white. And as I said earlier, really, even in your own lives if you think of any issue that you feel passionate about... If you really, really, honestly feel into whatever that is - whether it's somebody you really, really don't like. Or something you think is really, really, really, really ugly. Or something that really, really, really, really makes you mad... If any of you really look at it, you'll see... you'll know that there's something there that's... that you can't totally reject... There are very few things that are just, absolutely one way or the other. I realized in the course of making the film that you can have more than one opinion. You can have two opinions or three opinions. We're human. You know, that's kindof what we're all about as human beings. Is that we're capable of holding on to ambiguity." (27:40)
(On being overly-opinionated vs. listening and saying, 'I don't know.')
"Now, you know, when I hear people - like REALLY opinionated about the Palestinians or the Israelis or Israel or Palestine - I just put my hands over my head and I think, "until you've spent time there... Until you've spent time in people's living rooms... Until you've broken bread with them... Until you've read a couple of books - NOT Wikipedia - ...I don't want to hear your opinion. I really don't. It's much more important to say, "I don't know." I think it takes a lot of courage to say don't know. It's true.
...It takes a lot more courage and intelligence to say, 'You know, this is what I understand. This is what I've read. This is what I've heard. I kindof feel like this, but the fact is... until I do more research until I meet more people or read the... ...I don't really know.'
I hear the smartest people in the world saying that." (29:45)
(On the flaws of the film)
"...You know, we didn't succeed entirely. There aren't enough girls in the film, certainly. There are no Mizrahi kids - children of Jews from Middle Eastern countries. So we couldn't be entirely representative. There were no Christian Palestinians.. (14:50)
(On the editing process)
"When we finished shooting, we had a hundred and sixty hours of material. ...160 H.O.U.R.S. ...Of material. We could have featured 14 kids. We had enough footage - what you saw in the film was 7 kids. We shot enough of another 7 kids that we ended up having to edit out of the film.
The hardest part about making a documentary film is editing. You know, you leave a LOT of great stuff out of the film - it's very hard."
There are plenty more highlights. If you'd like to see the interview in its entirety, here it is. The text of the interview is after the page break.
If you're a teacher, and use the film Promises in the classroom, consider doing something like this. You can get information about it by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Ms. Shapiro said, much of being an independent documentary film-maker involves raising money. If you believe in the story and mission of the film Promises, or Our Summer in Tehran, please consider donating. (It is tax-deductible.)