Pic favors a collage-like, snapshot-in-time style that results in a certain frustrating unevenness, confusing already muddled questions of ethnic identity.
Vet documentarians Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow examine the Jewish community’s polarization over Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories in “Between Two Worlds.” Jumping from the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival to various college campuses before landing in Jerusalem, even delving into the helmers’ personal histories with little connective tissue, pic favors a collage-like, snapshot-in-time style that results in a certain frustrating unevenness, confusing already muddled questions of ethnic identity. Conversely, the disjointed approach enables the filmmakers to accurately represent opposing sides of the issue despite their admittedly leftist leanings, making for strong fest and tube appeal.
“Worlds” begins at the S.F. Jewish fest, which has functioned smoothly while fomenting discussion since it was established by helmer Kaufman in 1970. But in 2009, festival head Peter Stein’s inclusion of the controversial documentary “Rachel” unleashed a firestorm of vitriolic protests and threats by pro-Israel groups, targeting Stein and any organization that supported the festival. A representative of one of those groups, invited by Stein to speak before the film, was summarily booed off the stage.
Embarking on a search to determine the relationship between politics and Judaism, Kaufman and Snitow start by exploring their own family backstories, surprisingly rich in notable Jewish political figures. Kaufman produces photographs and homemovies tracing her grandfather’s evolution from a fervent Zionist, instrumental in founding the State of Israel, to the reluctant relative of a couple of Muslims, the husbands of his two scarf-draped granddaughters.
Searching through cartons of family memorabilia, Snitow pieces together his mother’s youth as a fervent communist in the 1930s, her disillusionment with Stalin, and her suburban relocation and rise to the leadership of a liberal Jewish movement, her past affiliation hidden during HUAC purges.
The filmmakers then abruptly plunge into coverage of a hearing at U. of California, Berkeley, to determine whether the school should divest itself of any holdings in companies that supply Israel with arms to use in Gaza. Docu samples tesimonials from each side of a dispute raging across colleges nationwide.
The pic’s one foray into Israel concerns the erection of a vast Simon Wiesenthal Center for Tolerance, smack-dab in the middle of an ancient Muslim cemetery. Talking heads weigh in on both sides as the camera wanders around 10th-century Muslim gravesites; archival footage of desecrated Israeli headstones used to build roads in Lebanon is thrown in for balance.
Proceeding with the thinnest of throughlines and only intermittent commentary, “Between Two Worlds” treats central events with rather cursory, colorless reportage, while more tangential topics, such as the filmmakers’ private histories, come alive. Yet the docu’s patchwork exploration of who speaks for the tribe may accurately reflect individual Jews’ experience of their scattered heritage.