The long forgotten movie genre of documentaries has experienced a serious revival in the past few years. Be it through half way political edutainment Michael Moore style or through stylish portraits of stylish subcultures the Stacy Peralta way. ‘jericho’s echo’ is another movie cutting in the Peralta edge and covering the punk scene in Israel. But this isn’t the only ancestor this movie got. There is definitely an influence of early scene report documentaries like ‘the decline of western civilization’ or ‘punk in london’ and the way the movie gets along without a lot of dubbed narration but mainly lets the protagonists tell the story themselves reminds a lot on the numerous recent literary works on the early punk scenes in the particular countries like ‘verschwende deine jugend’ or ‘svensk punk 197781’. I wouldn’t say that all these parallels came consciously but it shows a certain trends and fads in doing documentary work in these days I think.
The head behind the movie is San Francisco based filmmaker Liz Nord, a young woman that is just about as Jewish as most European people of her age are Christians. Still her Jewish decent was one of the motivations for her interest in visiting Israel. The fact that she actually went there was due to her friendship to the Israeli pop punk band Useless ID that she got to know on one of their tours through North America. With the wish to do a movie in mind and her friends in the band in front of her eyes she decided to shoot a movie about the band. When she actually set foot on the holy land she quickly found out that there is so much more to show than just Useless ID and readjusted the focus of her project to the whole Israeli punk scene.
This is right the point where the discussion has got to start. Whereas Gutzy, a young scenester who played in numerous bands and runs one of the few Israeli punk websites who also was deeply into this project in front and behind the camera, says “it is a pretty accurate documentation of the Israeli punk scene 'back' in 2003, when the scene was so homogenous”, David of Boshet Records and the band Nikmat Olalim that is also featured in the movie complains that “a band like Retribution gets a lot of screen time when it fact it's a very neglectable band in Israel. They play very few shows, and are probably more busy lifting weights. But Liz Nord had to have them, because they are all into "Israel pride" or some fascist bullshit like that, while the anti-Zionist bands like Nikmat Olalim or Kafa Lapanim Shel Limor Livnat, or others, were hardly represented“.
Indeed all bands in the movie were shown in live performances while Retribution were shot in their rehearsal room. Obviously they were in contrary to all the other featured bands not playing live within a few weeks the movie was shot in. The question whether this band is of any importance for a movie like this is truly one worth discussing. On the one hand one could ask “Would you feature a band like Blue Eyed Devils in the US or Landser in Germany in a movie about the particular hardcore and punk scene?” yet on the other hand Israel is not just an ordinary state that could easily be compared to the US or Germany. It is the only state in this whole world where Jews – or whoever is considered to be one – are widely save from anti-Semitism and I as a German am not the one to judge a group of people who is thankful for this fact.
But one thing that we got to accept, too, is that the inside view might differ in this point. Since ‘anarchy in the uk’ there is a vibrant tradition of hating or criticizing one’s home country in punk and later also in hardcore (just remember ‘deutschland muss sterben’ by Slime or ‘fuck dk’ by Paragraf 119). So it is a more than logical consequence that at least some punks in Israel will hate or criticize their home country Israel and its politics. It might sound strange or unthankful to our ears but there are people in Israel who regard their country mostly as a regime of suppression and warfare and give a shit about settlements in regions they’ve never been to that are mostly inhabited by people that they regard as fundamentalist rednecks. Once again no one outside Israel has a right to judge this. I think David is quite right when he claims that the picture ”totally neglected the truly interesting and meaningful aspect of the punk community in Israel” which means the way that privileged middle class kids try to engage for less privileged people that hardly share any of their political views except maybe a blurry wish for peace. There is no punk scene in the Palestinian territories and there are hardly any punks of Muslim decent in Israel. Still there is punks working hard in political groups that try to build bridges and help to make tiny steps towards peace and mutual understanding. It must cost an amount of idealism that we Europeans can hardly estimate to try to find ways to cooperate while there is actually people dying in suicide bombings around you all the time (more than one thousand Israelis were killed during the nearly five years of the al-Aqsa intifada).
It is some of the emotional climaxes of the movie when members of Ha Pussy Shel Lussy tell how they lost their original singer in a suicide bombing and when Useless ID speak about losing one of their biggest fans that they all knew when a bus got blown up. For a matter of fact this is what is special about the hardcore and punk scene in Israel. Maybe putting a stronger focus on this topic would have done the movie good for apart from that the Israeli punk scene is just as boring as every other punk scene in this damn world as from China to Chile and from Iceland to India it is always the privileged middle and upper class kids who can afford a subcultural lifestyle like punk and there is nothing worth reporting about in that. Another topic that is not really featured in the movie is the inner Israeli problems with racism and ethnical segregation especially with the many, many immigrants from the former USSR or the Falasha, the black Jews from Ethiopia, that are still facing a lot of prejudices in Israel.
Liz Nord herself said that if she could change the way she did the movie she "would have spent much more time in Israel and gotten more "in-depth" into the lives of a few of the characters”. Honestly this is the major point of criticism that I got and that David, too, was heavily criticising. With more time for research Liz Nord would have gotten a deeper insight into the scene and – I am sure about that – she would have found out that there is some things that are more worth focussing on than others. Still the final product has become far better than a movie about Useless ID alone could have ever become.
As far as Gutzy and David are reporting there has been a lot of mourning about the movie in the Israeli punk scene for many people didn’t feel ‘their’ scene was presented in the right light. Also Gutzy states that ”that a lot of people featured in the film disagree with what they had to say in the movie completely, since it's being said during the very crucial years in which their worldview was just being forged”. Once again this must be blamed on the very short period of time that the movie was shot in. A real in depth documentary as Liz realized herself would have taken way more time. But all this criticising does not mean that the movie the way it has turned out to was a horrific example of failure. Most certainly not. The point is that we have to change our point of view from which we judge it. If we expect a well researched documentary about the social and political status quo in Israel and the way it affects young people who are into punk rock well than we must be disappointed. But if we expect a flashlight snapshot of a small punk community in a hostile surrounding at a very certain point of time than we will most certainly be satisfied because this is exactly what it is for the good or for the bad. It is a natural thing that those who are featured in this film are the first to find things they dislike as most naturally they have changed since then all the more the farther the time the movie represents is dating back. Or as Gutzy puts it:”However, I believe that within a few years, the movie will no longer stay a current documentary of the scene and will evolve into a historic documentary. That'll be its greatest time, as it'll be the most accurate representation of Israeli punk and hardcore in 2003.”
So I highly recommend to grab your chance and watch this interesting movie yourselves when Liz Nord comes on tour with it these days along with Johannes from Katzilla fanzine who just did a special issue about the very same topic. This way you can make your own judgements about it and discuss your views with the filmmaker herself afterwards. I myself will attend the screening in Hamburg. So be there or be a schmock!