HOTLINE: A Story of Displacementby Joy Bernard | 03.11.15
“Hotline”, Buenos-Aires born filmmaker Silvina Landsmann’s latest and award-winning directorial effort, is a short, poignant and thought-provoking documentary. Landsmann’s oeuvre chronicles the dynamic and significant advocacy work of Hotline, an Israeli NGO attempting to protect Israel’s African asylum seekers.
Landsmann made the journey from Argentina to Israel with her family when she was an 11 year-old girl. “One could not look at the asylum seekers without bearing in mind the understanding that every person, oneself included, could find themselves one day in a foreign country,” Landsmann shared, as she reflected on the production process.
Her cinematic approach was cultivated with the help of the inspiring and influential documentary “Hospital”, made by filmmaker Frederick Wiseman and first seen by her as a student of the Film Department at the Tel Aviv University. “Wiseman propped up a camera at a hospital in New York. Suddenly I saw that documentation materials can be turned into a film. It was a meaningful moment.”
Instead of documenting the personal stories of the asylum seekers she encountered, Landsmann made an interesting cinematic choice by focusing her hand-held digital camera on the all-female staff of volunteers and workers of the Hotline organization. Hotline is headed by Sigal Rozen, the NGO’s public policy coordinator, whose dominance is felt throughout the film.
It is through this – perhaps unnatural – decision that Landsmann achieves her true purpose. Without stooping down to the use of obvious clichés, she has managed to shed an authentic light on the delicate interaction between the human rights activists and the individuals for whom they struggle. Having zoomed in on this sensitive issue through the lens of her unconventional approach – Landsmann offers her viewers no narrative or written text throughout the film- she has accomplished an impressive feat, compressing a variety of modes, scenes and stories into a 100 minute film.
Footage of the Hotline volunteers and workers struggling patiently through public information meetings at various central locations in Israel is intermittently interrupted by documentation of asylum seekers coming into the Hotline offices to receive help with various bureaucratic concerns. Arriving one by one, they wait to be assisted. The film does not follow their individual trajectories and never quite arrives at a firm conclusion of their stories.
“We are constantly bombarded with difficult human-interest stories, not just those about asylum seekers, and people have this tendency to treat these stories in a pitying way,” Landsmann elaborates. “I think that oftentimes, identifying with the pain in these stories leaves us with the sentiment of empathy and absolves us of the need to understand why things happen the way they do. Since we’re caught up emotionally, it distances us from understanding the mechanism that makes things happen.”
Crafted in what can only be compared to an artist’s painting made in few, terse and impassioned brushstrokes, “Hotline” is as informative as it is emotional. Landsmann’s unique storytelling coupled with her complex subject matter make for an unnerving, fascinating and uplifting viewing experience.
“Hotline” premiered in the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year and won the Jerusalem Film Festival Van Leer Award for Best Documentary. It can be viewed at Cinemateque: Thursday, 12/11, 20.00, Saturday, 14/11, 13.00, Thursday, 19/11, 18.00, Saturday, 21/11, 11.00 and Saturday 28/11, 21.30.