Dror Moreh’s The Gatekeepers is one of the five Oscar nominated entries for Best Documentary Feature. Telling the story of Israel’s domestic secret service agency, Shin Bet, six former heads of this secretive organisation candidly discuss their roles and their thoughts and reflect on the effect their decisions had on the peace effort.
The Six Day War in June 1967 saw the occupation of the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in a crushing victory by the Israeli army over Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Almost over night a vast, hostile population fell under Israeli control and it was the responsibility of the Shin Bet to oversee it. The only publicly known Shin Bet figure is the leader who deals directly with the Israeli prime minister and advises on all internal security matters. Little is known outside of this so for Moreh to convince the last six heads to sit down and discuss their tenures leads to insights one could only have dreamt of up until now.
Using a mix of archive footage and these new interviews, the last three decades are explained from the perspective of the Shin Bet and each leader muses on their vital moments and the ramifications of their decisions. Every discussion feels honest and frank and rarely, if ever, does it feel as if anything is being held back or worded carefully to ensure that nothing is said that should be kept under wraps. All six oversaw truly terrible events and had to make split second decisions which literally were the difference between life and death. Were they the right decisions? Finally we find out.
In between the interviews the archive footage is not just displayed as a simple newsreel but on more than one occasion particularly important or incendiary events are expertly showcased using computer animations to blend archive stills into the story that is unfolding. It is hard to explain but is a highly technically competent and innovative way to illustrate a point which enhances the stories greatly. Rarely can a documentary claim such a feat but clearly a lot of thought went into how best to present these scenes and it pays dividends.
With some truly eye opening stories and footage, at no point do you ever envy the job that these six men had. To hold a position of such responsibility is an extraordinary burden although one that they all managed with a level of cool that is almost hard to believe.
The Gatekeepers‘ final act shifts the tone from hard facts to stoic reflection. Again the honesty of each interviewee is on show as they try to reconcile the actions of the Shin Bet with the progress that has been made in the last 45 years. Unsurprisingly there is some wistfulness in each of them as they try to summarise it for the viewer and the final line certainly sums it up best – “The tragedy of Israel’s public security debate is that we don’t realise that we face a frustrating situation, in which we win every battle, but we lose the war.”
Arguably the only criticism that could be levelled at The Gatekeepers is that there is no alternate viewpoint other than from within the Shin Bet. However, given the aim of the documentary it is a resounding success and there are plenty of alternatives out there for those wishing to learn about the situation from all sides.