GUEST WRITER STEVE GARDEN considers a New Zealand filmmaker's doco about the Israel-Palestine flashpoint

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GUEST WRITER STEVE GARDEN considers a New Zealand filmmaker's doco about the Israel-Palestine flashpoint

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”.

notes3It’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.

notes2Watching 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.

notes1It is an impressive and affecting film, an inspired and inspiring example of world-class filmcraft 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, “If you have your boot on someone’s neck, it affects you.”

For a video interview with director Sarah Cordery go here. Notes to Eternity is getting limited theatrical release in New Zealand cinemas on May 12

Steve Garden is an award-winning record producer in Auckland for Rattle Records whose albums have featured prominently at Elsewhere. For more on the full Rattle catalogue see here. You will be impressed. Steve has previously written on film for Elsewhere here.

Other Voices Other Rooms is an opportunity for Elsewhere readers to contribute their ideas, passions, interests and opinions about whatever takes their fancy. Elsewhere welcomes travel stories, think pieces, essays about readers' research or hobbies etc etc. Nail it in 1000 words of fewer and contact

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Graham - Aug 18, 2015

For those of us unable to make the NZIFF screenings hopefully the film will be available to see somehow. GRAHAM REPLIES: She has assured me she will be in touch when it screens again, which apparently is very soon.

Fraser Gardyne - May 11, 2016

Hi Graham and Steve,

Just letting you know that Notes to Eternity is starting at The Vic in Devonport this week. Check their website for times. It's a great theatre.

Cheers Fraser

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