Disclaimer: The author of this piece is a North London born Ashkenazi Jewish, of European descent, with family born and living in Israel. Her opinions are drawn from her experiences and her research on the subjects explored in this documentary. They are her own and do not reflect the views and opinions of Screen Queens.
The people living in the various countries that make up the Middle East are divided by beliefs and conflicts, but connected through traumas and deep rooted pain that they are still trying to understand. This is not just Israelis, or Palestinians, or Iranians, or select groups of refugees. From a relatively safe seat in the West it is hard to understand the layers of conflict and traumas that are interlinked and push against each other but Afterward seeks to give a voice to many different sides of the story.
Ofra Bloch, the director behind Afterward is an Israeli born, New York based psychoanalyst. She is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and specialises in trauma, especially historical and genetic trauma. She grew up her entire life feeling the acute pain of the Holocaust, and fearing that one day there would be a second genocide. Her first feature length documentary presents a complex web of both the Holocaust and the Arab-Israeli conflict from a myriad of perspectives. From the children of Nazis, to Palestinian parents who lost their children to a Palestinian Academic who wanted to educate his students on the Holocaust. No-one has the same perspective, beliefs, or narrative, but Bloch manages to step aside and give them some space to tell their stories.
Bloch is both author and subject of this probing doc, which jumps quite rapidly from Germany to Israel to listen and examine. Early on in the doc the focus is Germany, where she explores ‘what they did to us’. She has a list of contributors that include the son of an SS officer and a former Neo-Nazi. The conversations, as one can imagine, are difficult, full of pauses, and at one point a contributor refuses to continue on camera. It would have been easy for Bloch to frame herself in opposition to the German people she interviews, to perpetuate the narrative of good and evil. Instead she chooses to listen, to suggest and question, but not to tell her interviewees what to say, or the viewer what to think.
This becomes a theme of the documentary, to present and listen. Images of bombed out Palestinian cities, and memorials of Palestinian children are shown with Bloch’s voiceover commenting how horrific these images were, but also acknowledging her own difficulty processing that while to her someone may be a terrorist, to someone else they are a freedom fighter. The film is very much a dialogue between the truths Bloch has grown up with and the truths her Palestinian counterparts have experienced.
A particularly poignant moment of the documentary is when she interviews artist Horst Hoheisel, who designed the Aschrottbrunnen memorial in Kassel, Germany. In 1908 a giant fountain was built, with the help of a Jewish entrepreneur, and in 1939 the Nazis destroyed the fountain. Horst took it upon himself to write to the mayor and tell him that if you want to rebuild, it must be a negative version, sunk into the ground. He demonstrates with a wooden model, and in broken English, tells us that this is to represent the absence of the Jewish community in Kassel who were lost. He desired to create a space to remember, and one can hear the pain in his words. Then as he turns the model back into the hole he says people always ask him when will the momenut be above ground, and he says when there are no more neo-nazis left in the world.
Another particularly keen moment is when Ofra gives Prof. Mohammed Dajani Daoudi to tell his story. He says “‘I grew up in this culture where the Holocaust was not taught, was not discussed, and it was only portraying the Holocaust as part of a Jewish plan to get sympathy and to control more and more of the world.” But as he grew up, became a poltician, and then an academic, he made headlines for choosing to take his Palestinian students to see Auschwitz and other death-camp sites in Poland. To open their eyes. He has spent most of his life advocating for the inclusion of the Holocaust in Palestinian education curriculum. The interview is punctuated by images of the death camps. Modern, full colour images of the memorial to emphasise the grim reality of these events.
This doc is not about answering the question of who is good and who is bad when it comes to the Holocaust, Israeli occupation, or Palestinian violence. As so many that have come before it. This story is a hard one to tell, regardless of the position one chooses. And even here, Bloch is seeking to work through her own trauma and pain. Again and again she admits to the difficulty in talking to someone who was a Neo-Nazi, or to a Palestianian academic in her field who cannot relate to the Jewish fear and pain because she lives with the threat of a gun to her chest every day. Even with a lifetime of studying trauma it is evident that this was not an easy film to make. Nor one to watch.
Often there is a sense that documentaries have something to gain, something to prove. But Afterward is a question, and almost a challenge to the filmmaker to understand all of the narratives, no matter how successful she is. Those looking to learn will find a spectrum of information, rooted in personal experience, that seeks to understand the controversies. It is not a documentary for those seeking validation of their beliefs or viewpoints, as they will be challenged. Afterward is a rather basic, interview based documentary that seeks to understand rather than offer a particular argument. Still, it is well worth a watch for those seeking to educate themselves on what it means to live as a Palestinian, an Israeli, and a German in our conflicted world.
Afterward is available on Digital on January 28th
by Mia Garfield
Mia Garfield has just finished a degree in Film at Falmouth University. She has just finished her first short ‘Sonder’, keep an eye out for it at festivals in the UK. A big lover of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Mythology, her taste is varied. Her favourite films include Howl’s Moving Castle, Memoirs of A Geisha, How to Train Your Dragon, and Big Hero 6. You can find her @miajulianna2864