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A Promising Look At The Future

A Promising Look At The FutureThrough the eyes of children, Justine Shapiro's Oscar-nominated documentary has earned international praise for its moving and honest look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Boston [03.19.02] For decades, the war between Israelis and Palestinians has shaped the day-to-day lives of thousands of people in the Middle East. The violence has continued, leaving many experts predicting a bleak future for the region. But an award-winning documentary by Tufts graduate Justine Shapiro indicates that Israelis and Palestinians still have reason for hope -- their children.

"There has never been a more crucial time for a closer look at the war between Israelis and Palestinians, and no film in recent memory has offered such poignant insight into the Middle East conflict, as this portrait of ordinary kids growing up amid violence and strife," reported The Boston Globe.

Co-directed by Shapiro -- a 1985 Tufts graduate and host of the Travel Channel's "Lonely Planet" -- "Promises" captures the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the perspective of seven children -- ages 9-13 --who live on opposite sides of Israel's security checkpoints.

"An intensely personal and insightful documentary... ["Promises"] demonstrates the unusual power of thoughtful, subjective filmmaking," reported the New York Times. "This extraordinary enterprise was distilled from 170 hours of filming between 1997 and the summer of 2000."

Often overlooked, the region's children offered Shapiro and her colleagues unique and startlingly honest viewpoints on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"A lot of people questioned our decision to focus on children so young," Shapiro told New York's Daily News. "But we knew they could express their feelings articulately and originally, fusing what they absorbed from their parents with their own experiences and spirit. They liked that we respected them enough to ask them hard questions."

Their comments often reflected the starkness and depth of the emotions that fuel the ongoing battles.

"We fight because this land is ours," says Moishe Bar Am, one of the Jewish boys interviewed for the film. " If I could make my future, all the Arabs would fly away. The Jews would stay and the temples would be rebuilt ... We have our Army to protect us. We have our firing range. And if the soldiers aim poorly, it's okay because they might shoot an Arab."

Mahmoud -- a Palestinian boy who was also interviewed -- provides his own perspective.

"This is my land," Mahmoud says. "I was born and raised here, You have no right to take it. I support Hamas and Hezbollah. They kill women and children, but they do it for their country. The more Jews we kill, the fewer there will be -- until they're almost gone."

The film's power, reported the Jerusalem Post, comes from the intersection of the children's hardened political views with their seemingly typical lives as kids.

"Though the political declarations that come out of the children's mouths are often distressing for their programmatic nature, we also seem glimmers of hope," reported the Post.

"One of the most bizarrely uplifting scenes in the film comes, for instance, when an articulate [Jewish boy] talks earnestly ... about his relationships to his Arab neighbors," reported the newspaper. "As they discuss this topic with great seriousness, a group of Palestinian boys gather around, curious about the camera, and one of them commences a burping contest with the Jewish kid. Strange as it sounds, the sight of these two little boys -- ostensible enemies, with no common language -- belching gleefully at one another offers more cause for optimism than do a whole parade of Tenets, and Mitchells and Zinnis."

The recipient of numerous international film awards, Shapiro's unique approach for "Promises'" is very powerful.

"We didn't want it to be about current events -- that's not going to open people's hearts," Shapiro told the Globe. "We wanted audiences to develop relationships with these kids, and that meant showing more facets of these kids than their earnestness and their political wisdom."

The approach appears to have worked well.

In its debut at the Rotterdam Film Festival in the Netherlands, "Promises" became the first documentary to win top honors in the festival's 30-year history. The Tufts graduate's work has since added another dozen or so awards, including an Oscar nomination -- which "Promises" is expected to win.

And critics around the world have praised "Promises" for everything from its brutal honesty to its insightful approach.

"Good documentary films reveal what is under the surface of a situation or a person," Shapiro said in an interview with PBS. "It is the process of unearthing these complexities that motivates me. Ultimately, I believe that life is all about learning something more about oneself and the world around us."

In an interview with the Globe, Shapiro added, "["Promises"] makes people rethink the capacity of young kids to express themselves and be impacted by their environment."

Photos by Justine Shapiro and Meagan Shapiro.

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