Thursday, September 15, 2005

Diameter of the Bomb

This Canadian documentary, which was made jointly between the National Film Board and the BBC, retells the events of a suicide bombing of the #32A bus in Jerusalem in 2002 which claimed the lives of over 20 people and injured 50 more. This bus travelled past a series of buildings right on the border of Palestinian and Israeli territory, and the passengers where always a diverse mix, in race, religion, and political stripes.

Diameter of the Bomb is an ambitious project (if ultimately an unsuccessful one) which attempts to not just show the media-eye of the story, but to trace a circumference around all the folks in which this bombing had an effect on. From the forensic workers to the families who lost loved ones, from the suicide bomber's parents to man who drove him to the bus, and from the doctor who treated the injured to the coroner who did the autopsies.

Graphic footage of the destroyed bus, including a gruesome shot of the remains of the bombers head on the side of the road, is not sensationalized, as the film spends much time establishing context for the images. There is no voice over narrative, but rather a chorus of voices all uniquely affected by this tragedy. At the end of the film, is shown the BBC news story, which is probably under 90 seconds in length. This highlights how little depth we get from Broadcast and Cable news television and how far the smoke tendrils of such a tragedy spread out.

If there is a strength to this film, it is how the film-makers managed to take a subject and region where everything is political and tell the human story without the politics. If you think about it, this is no easy feat. This is one of the very few documentaries which manages to come as close to the ideal of ‘unbiased’ as I’ve here seen. If there is a weakness it is too much focus on the ‘pretty’ girl on the bus, Shari, which takes emphasis off some of the others, including a school-aged Ethiopian Christian girl and an all-around generous Israeli graduate student who gave as much time to the community as he did to his studies. Despite the horror of these events, the runtime is somehow overlong. There is often a lack of immediate connection between the innocent images of daily Jerusalem life shown on screen and the voice over stories of the participants. That ennui set in more than once over the length of the film (which is 86 minutes) may be a disturbing comment on my own inability to be truly shocked at the horrors in this world. How exactly does one deal with the horrors inflicted by suicide bombers? There is not even a body left over to blame or set to rest. You can only just pick up and move on.


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