________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 22 . . . . June 22, 2007


Zero Degrees of Separation.

Elle Flanders (Writer & Director). Elle Flanders & Peter Starr (Producers). Tamara Romanchuk & Dara Gellman (Associate Producers). Silva Basmajian (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2005.
89 min., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: C0105 081.

Subject Headings:
Arab-Israeili conflict-1993-Palestinian Arabs-Politics and government.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

**½ /4                                   

Imagine, if you can, what it’s like to be living in a war zone. Always having your passport and identity papers available for inspection, traveling through checkpoints and road blocks (never knowing how long your journey might be held up), and, more than anything, continually living in fear of attack, harassment, and violence – that’s what life is like, on a daily basis, for the two Palestinian-Israeli couples profiled in this film. Both couples are gay, but in the context of other issues in their lives, their sexual orientation is almost a non-issue. 

     Zero Degrees of Separation begins with footage from the family film archives of director Elle Flanders. The Israel depicted in these home movies is idyllic, a testament to Flanders’ grandparents’ Zionist aspirations which culminated in the family’s move to Israel in the 1950’s. In their new home, Flanders’ grandparents created a beautiful garden, “their pride and joy”, tended by a series of gardeners, some Palestinian, some Israeli. Ezra, who serves as one of the narrators of the film, was one of these gardeners. Years later, Flanders re-connects with Ezra in order to tell his story, and that of Selim, his Palestinian partner, who lives under virtual house arrest in their apartment. Needless to say, their situation is one of ongoing frustrations, but if nothing else, it galvanizes Ezra into political activism.

     Like Elle Flanders, Edit, a social worker, whose Argentinian parents left South America for a better life, is also a child of Zionist idealists, but her relationship with Samira, an Arabic nurse, experiences all manner of tensions because of the differences in their backgrounds and the political ideologies which shaped them. Both are cognizant of, and articulate about, these challenges. We meet the two women just as they are about to celebrate their first anniversary of  life together. Sadly, by the end of the film, their relationship has ended, undone in some degree because of the politics of life in the Middle East.

     Zero Degrees of Separation is a documentary film which has won awards at a number of film festivals for its message of how political conflicts can divide nations and sunder individual relationships. As a work of cinematic art, it is strong and powerful. However, I think that there would be few senior high school classes for which I could recommend it. At 89 minutes, it is lengthy, given that virtually the entire film is dubbed in English subtitles. It also demands a high level of maturity and political sophistication: viewers need to have more than passing knowledge of Middle Eastern politics in order to understand how historical events have become current realities. Preview before considering its purchase.

Recommended with reservations.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.


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