The current situation on the West Bank, a landlocked Palestinian territory under Israeli occupation, receives a good deal of politically focused media attention. The area is undeniably political, however, as is the case with many war wrought areas, the story extends far beyond the issues of land ownership, violence and conflict that are exposed through a discussion of politics.
In his documentary “This Body is a Prison,” Fairhaven student Dylan Bergeson aims to reveal a side of the situation on the West Bank that is driven by the stories of the people living there, focusing on the psychological and spiritual dimensions of the occupation rather than the political dimension. “I’m not telling a primarily political story, I’m telling a primarily human story,” said Bergeson. “Although people’s lives are very politicized there, and it is impossible to talk about this situation without talking about politics, I’m not interested in putting out something where people feel like I am trying to beat them over the head, or change their mind. I think everybody who comes to this documentary—unless they’re really extremist in their thinking—they’re going to leave with a better understanding of Palestinians as human beings, and it will probably challenge a lot of their assumptions about the situation because of that.”
Bergeson described that the documentary is, “a look at the psychological impact of the occupation in the West Bank, but there’s a lot of layers to it. In the literal sense, its looking at how society is divided with tangible things like the wall, checkpoints and roadblocks, but its also looking at individual people and saying that the same things happening in society as a whole are happening inside individuals. The documentary really focuses on children,” he said. “Adults fit in to the extent that they discuss children’s experiences.”
To make the film, Bergeson spent four months in the Middle East collecting interviews, stories and first hand experience of the situation. He spent over three of these months in Palestine, where he focused his energies on two very different places. The first was the city of Bethlehem, and the second was Balata, a 2km by 2km refugee camp that has sustained just under 1/5 of the total deaths on the West Bank since 2000. “Bethlehem,” said Bergeson, “has suffered major invasions, but things are more calm now. In Balata, I was told over and over again, ‘we don’t know when were going to die.’ There is this constant and profound uncertainty, and low level fear in the community—they can never escape those things.” Throughout the film, Bergeson compares and contrasts these two places to uncover the differences in the immediate realities confronting people in both these areas, and the similarities in the psychological and social issues they face.
As a Fairhaven student with a concentration in Media Literacy and Palestine Studies, Bergeson has studied the issues in this film extensively. Bergeson had already been to Palestine once before setting out again to make this film. He said that the experience he had melded and shifted both his college experience, and who he is as a person. “On a personal level, all of my studies in college and about the situation really came into fruition, and I am not the same person now as I was when I left,” he said.
A large part of Bergeson’s change can be attributed to the fact that while in Balata, he survived a five-day military invasion. “I was working as a medical volunteer. [During the invasion] I worked carrying bloody bodies to an ambulance, I was shot at, a close friend of mine was injured by a grenade... The invasion was only five days long, but it was so earth shattering. It changed everything. There was a while afterwards where I couldn’t feel safe. Through that experience I became incredibly close to that community and developed a more mature understanding of the situation. My understanding of the culture, of what people are going through psychologically, and why the community is becoming more and more militarized, just matured. I learned a lot about human beings, because it’s this psychological place that few people are ever put into.”
Though Bergeson noted that as an outsider he could never fully understand the complexity of life under occupation, he certainly gained a first hand experience of the trauma, fear and the impact of military violence on human lives. This insight helped him to make a film with greater sensitivity and understanding of the people whose lives and stories the film represents.
When asked how it felt being behind the camera at such extreme life and death moments, Bergeson described his image-capturing tool as a blessing and a curse. “During difficult situations, watching through a screen distanced me from it—I was able to do what needed to be done. I shut off my emotions out of practicality so I could do the work that needed to be done, but it has been difficult to turn them back on again. [The camera] was a survival mechanism,” he said. “I was grateful to get a lot of these things on videotape.”
After editing the 30 hours of tape down to a more digestible size, “This Body is a Prison” is now ready to be shown. Bergeson has planned an event to premier the film, and also to discuss any emotional or intellectual responses that it may incite in viewers. The event will begin with a display of photographs Bergeson took while in Palestine, followed by the documentary screening. After the documentary, there will be a Q & A session. “It’s going to be really hard to look at and a lot of people will probably be really upset,” said Bergeson. “People are really going to feel like their understanding of the situation has been pushed. I want to allow time so we can all discuss this together, and talk about any ideas and thoughts that come up.”
Future plans for the documentary are uncertain, but Bergeson said he might work on it more and submit it to a film festival or tour with it. Hopefully, as many people as possible will be able to see it. “I want more that just the ‘activist’ crowd to come,” he said. “Especially people who are interested in trying to understand the situation on a human level instead of just a political level.”
“This Body is a Prison” will be shown on May 25, at 7pm in VU 552.