A Number’s Game

‘Dreaming by Numbers’ by Anna Bucchetti

Was up in Sheffield at the Documentary Festival recently. Saw David Benchetrit’s ‘Dear Father, quiet, we’re shooting’ about conscientious objectors in Israel. Includes a very powerful interview with a former helicopter pilot hero whose arguments against serving in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories are all the more powerful for his characterisation of himself as a fighting man and war as part of nature. My abiding feeling from the film was of the mutual fear fuelling the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Q&A was appropriately tense with a legitimate although slightly tetchy question from a young Palestinian film-maker provoking a bit of a clash. The Palestinian wanted the people who shot some of the footage in Nablus and elsewhere in the occupied areas to be credited to them: Benchetrit evidently bought the footage in good faith from various agencies and channels like TF1. But some kind of misunderstanding kicked in. Says it all.

The chat in the bar afterwards was altogether better humoured with young Israelis and ex-pat Palestinians speaking civily and with genuine engagement. I felt David got a very hard time from an Irishman in the audience who accused him of being arrogant – I tried to counter-balance an ungenerous public assault by reassuring David and applauding the bravery of the film. David’s leg was severely damaged in the making of the film – the young Palestinian film-maker showed me the bullet wound behind his ear. It was like that scene from Jaws when Quint and Hooper the marine-biologist compare scars.

Also bumped in to Daisy Asquith, maker of My New Home, whose online dimension we discussed. She was with Maxyne Franklin of the Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation.

The next morning caught by chance ‘Dreaming by Numbers’ by Anna Bucchetti, which portays Napolitan Italy through a lotto office and all those passing through it, focusing on a strange numerology derived from Kabbalism. Using a core location and the people associated with it as the hub of a documentary narrative often works well because of its basic simplicity. The black and white photography brought a real sense of the city’s historic roots and resonance. The number thing was fascinating, centred on a book called The Grimace. Different numbers correspond to different objects or concepts – all of which is applied to the interpretation of dreams.

I’ve always loved the magic of numbers – it appeals to the pantheist in me.

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