Sarah Cordery’s eloquent meditation on the Israel-Palestine conflict also speaks to a potentially unique—and exciting—way forward for New Zealand filmmaking.
While the ongoing tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict provides the framework for Sarah Cordery’s highly accomplished notes to eternity, this intelligently conceived and skilfully constructed documentary isn’t so much an examination of the conflict (although it does offer an overview of the situation) as a philosophical meditation on why this appalling state of affairs—this “affront to humanity” as Cordery rightly describes it—has continued for nearly seven decades, and with little hope of resolution.
On a political level the film unashamedly stands as a corrective to pro-Zionist hasbara by providing a platform for the views of Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, Sara Roy, and Robert Fisk, all renowned for their often vociferous criticism of Israeli policies. The first three contributors were approached specifically because they are Jewish. “These people are at the top of their fields in scholarship, so I deliberately sought them out,” says Cordery, “[because] what’s lacking from this issue … particularly in the news media, is the … wider context.” It’s this wider and, just as importantly, personal context that these highly articulate and insightful commentators bring to the film, aided in no small measure by long-time friend of Finkelstein, Moussa Abu Hashhash, a field worker for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, and a man who, like every Palestinian, wrestles with the perpetual and corrosive residue of suffering.
However, the enduring substance of the film isn’t located in criticism so much as in personal reflection and self-examination, and in this respect the contributions of Noam Chomsky and, especially, Sara Roy are pivotal to its meaning. Indeed, while notes to eternity aims to bring greater awareness and understanding to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, on another level it could have been structured around any number of examples of power and powerlessness, intolerance, oppression, enmity, and denial.
Watching the film I was reminded that the opposite of love isn’t hate but indifference, an insight that goes to the heart of our shared experience and implicitly calls us to reflection. notes to eternity expresses this with seemingly effortless and poignant understatement, and as such it is the equal of the very best cinema in that it offers itself as a mirror. It’s a film that creeps up on you, patiently pulling its complex strands together into a compelling testament to the power of personal conviction. It is an impressive and affecting film, an inspired and inspiring example of world-class film craft that, in its preference for a reflexive, impressionistic, contemporary aesthetic, speaks to a potentially unique (and exciting) way forward for New Zealand filmmaking.
Like other fine documentaries in recent years, notes to eternity suggests that while we may aspire to a selfless morality as individuals, as a species we seem to be wedded to unrelenting misanthropy—a shared schadenfreude. As Chomsky dryly says at one point, “As you have your boot on someone’s neck, it affects you.”