The Viewing Booth

Ra’anan Alexandrowicz
Israel, USA 2019

22.02.2020 19:30 Eng. subtitles Zoo Palast 2
23.02.2020 20:00 Eng. subtitles Werkstattkino@silent green
24.02.2020 17:00 Eng. subtitles Kino Arsenal 1
29.02.2020 15:30 Eng. subtitles Delphi Filmpalast

70 min. English, Hebrew, Arabic.

In a laboratory-like setup, The Viewing Booth recounts a unique encounter between a filmmaker and a viewer. The film explores the way we make meanings for nonfiction images, and how what we see in such images, is related to our belief systems. Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, whose films The Law in These Parts (2011) and The Inner Tour (2001) have exposed different aspects of the Israeli occupation, compiles online video footage depicting the harsh reality of Palestinian existence under Israeli military rule. He then shows this footage to American students and films their reactions, focusing on one of them, Maia Levy, an enthusiastic supporter of Israel. Six months later, Alexandrowicz invites Levy to watch more footage. This time, Maia views edited footage of herself while she was watching the images of the occupation. What is revealed in the process is multi-layered, puzzling, insightful and extends beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Maia’s candid and reflective analysis of her previous commentary gives the viewer a staggering demonstration of the idea that seeing is not always believing. (jn)

Ra’anan Alexandrowicz was born in Jerusalem, Israel in 1969. He completed his studies at Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in 1996. Following his debut, Rak B'Mikrim Bodedim, he continued making documentary films as well as his first fiction film James’ Journey to Jerusalem. Alexandrowicz served several times as advisor to the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund.

Do we see the same when we look at the same?

During the Spanish Civil War, Virginia Woolf received a letter from a prominent lawyer in London who asked her, perhaps provocatively, “How, in your opinion, are we to prevent war?” In her answer Woolf suggested they first address his use of the word “we” through a little thought experiment. What would happen, she asked him, if they both observed the images of war published every week? “Let’s see,” she wrote, “whether when we look at the same photographs we feel the same things.”  
I consider my first encounter with this correspondence, around five years ago, as the moment my film THE VIEWING BOOTH was conceived. Woolf’s simple and prophetic words were written at a time when the photography of human suffering was to become a medium of truth. Reading them 80 years later, at a time when truth itself is a contested term in public life, I asked myself: do people looking at my images see what I see?
Woolf’s words permitted me, or rather commanded me, to question the way nonfiction images function, especially with regard to their role in the defence of human rights and social justice. For years I searched for the cinematic means to do this. If documentaries are an exploration of reality, I thought, then there must also be a way to explore the reality portrayed in a documentary. The more I searched for the filmic path to do this, the more I felt that in order to understand images I should stop looking at images, and rather turn the camera towards the viewers. The result of these considerations is THE VIEWING BOOTH.
Although it touches on questions that evolved over a long period of time, in the end THE VIEWING BOOTH happened almost by chance, during a shoot that was originally meant to be a pilot, testing a possible project concept. Years of thoughts suddenly and unexpectedly found their cinematic expression when Maia Levi, whom I had never met before, entered the improvised viewing booth I had created at Temple University in Philadelphia. Maia’s dialogue with the images of Palestine and Israel, as well as her reflections on her perception of these images, led me to confront myself, as an image maker, in ways that I had not expected. The result is a small, intimate film that invites viewers to delve into quintessential, universal questions regarding the perception of nonfiction images in our present times.  
The introspective nature of THE VIEWING BOOTH determined its unconventional form and structure – one that often evokes the idea of a mirror, or a hall of mirrors. As work on the film progressed, I realised that it is not only Maia and myself who are confronted with our own reflections through this film. If it achieves its objective, THE VIEWING BOOTH will become a mirror for its viewers, as well as for the nonfiction tradition – a tradition which I consider myself a part of. (Ra'anan Alexandrowicz)

Production Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, Liran Atzmor. Production companies Ra'anan Alexandrowicz (Philadelphia, USA), Liran Atzmor (Tel Aviv, Israel). Written and directed by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz. Cinematography Zachery Reese. Editing Neta Dvorkis, Ra'anan Alexandrowicz. Sound design Rotem Dror. Executive producers Annie Roney, Kirsten Johnson, Susan Norget. With Maia Levy.

World sales ro*co films

Films

1996: Rak B'Mikrim Bodedim / Self Confidence Ltd. (20 min.). 1999: Martin (52 min., Forum 2000). 2001: The Inner Tour (85 min., Forum 2001). 2003: James’ Journey to Jerusalem (91 min.). 2011: The Law in These Parts (101 min.). 2019: The Viewing Booth.

Photo: © Zachary Reese