Calling myself a country mouse may sound disingenuous, but the truth is that my knowledge of cinema comes almost entirely from visits to the local Regal and Sag Harbor Cinemas — and at most times of the year I only rarely go to the movies, waiting to hear of a film that is really good.
But I have been a fan of the Hamptons International Film Festival from its beginning 24 years ago, and the movies I have seen there have expanded my horizons in quite amazing ways. Over the years, the festival has offered opportunities to see documentaries, in particular, that otherwise I would not even have known about and that have opened my eyes in wonderful ways, bringing the world closer.
Two documentaries I saw this time around were truly stunning.
One, “The Eagle Huntress,” is about an extraordinary 13-year-old girl in Mongolia who trains an eagle to hunt and by doing so defies a centuries-old male tradition. Seeing her in action was an uplifting experience, and I recommend the film’s trailer, on YouTube, to anyone interested — and their children. That the cameras were rolling in frigid weather and deep snow to record the events live astonished me. “The Eagle Huntress” won the festival’s best-documentary prize, and I’m told that it is one of the lucky films that is likely to be released in theaters, so you and your family may have a chance to see it, too. Do go.
But while “The Eagle Huntress” is an uplifting film, the other I called stunning was darker and distressing. “Disturbing the Peace” follows a handful of Palestinian fighters as well as Israeli soldiers who have grown disillusioned by the killings they participated in or witnessed. They tempted fate to meet, overcame their hostilities, and established Combatants for Peace 10 years ago and are still trying to spread the word of nonviolence.
Who could fail to be impressed by such peace activists as Suliman al-Khatib, who attacked two Israelis when he was 14 and spent a decade in prison; or Chen Alon Chen, who was in the Israeli Army for 4 years and 10 more in the reserves and then became a “refusnik,” signing a letter to renounce his service in the Occupied Territories; or Mohammed Owedah Mohammed, who also went to prison for being a violent participant in anti-occupation activities; or Avner Wishnitzer, who was born on a kibbutz, fought with an elite Israeli Army unit, and became a refusnik. . . ?
The documentary “Combatants for Peace” also features a woman who survived a suicide bombing mission. We see her, through re-enactment, as a young mother saying goodbye to her daughter. She is a powerful advocate for peace, although she could not be present.
Four of the film’s protagonists, however, were here in East Hampton and took part in a panel that followed the first screening. They have been making the rounds, hoping to encourage the peace movement. As the news from that part of the world continues its downward trajectory, one can only wish them godspeed.