“It’s Better to Jump” focuses on native residents’ fears that historied Akka (aka Acre) might become a pristine Europeanized resort town “empty of its own citizens” — at least the Arabic ones, currently being pushed out by Jewish settlers, immigrants and developers. It’s ironic, then, that this well-intentioned docu functions best as a travel promo, with its handsome widescreen photography of the beautiful Palestinian coastal city in northern Israel. Otherwise, the pic feels awfully thin at feature length, growing repetitious and padded despite the complex history and political issues involved. Reception will be modest for its theatrical openings Nov. 22 in New York and Dec. 6 in Los Angeles.
Known to be inhabited since about 3000 B.C., the area became an important port and trading center, its walled perimeter (first built during the 12th-century First Crusades, then rebuilt several centuries later) holding off Napoleon among other would-be invaders. The Old City that wall encompasses has been designated a World Heritage Site, one noted for longstanding harmoniousness among its primarily Muslim and Christian population.
But Arabic residents — some of whose families have had the same homes for centuries — complain that in recent decades, there’s been a concerted campaign toward the “slow torture and death of a society” (theirs), its goal being an eventual “ethnocracy” of Israeli Jews. Their numbers have halved within just the last decade, variously pushed out by the Israeli authorities’ control over building/repair permits, employment biases, and inflated property buyouts that poor citizens can hardly refuse.
Even treasured historical sites have been put on the auction block to be rehabbed as luxury hotels and such. Though primarily a Muslim city since the 7th century, much of Akka’s Arabic citizenry was displaced after its capture by Israel in 1948. Today less than one-third of the Old City’s inhabitants are Arabs, and their traditional fishing-based economy has been squeezed out by military water rights, pollution and regulation.
Various citizens attest to Akka’s cultural vibrancy and importance while lamenting its gradual evolution into what they fear will be one of the most exclusive (and expensive) places in the world. “Here we will stay, God willing” many say, sounding none too hopeful.
The directors haven’t drawn particularly interesting material from their interviewed residents and experts, however, and the historical/political contexts are hastily skimmed through. Pic barely squeaks past the one-hour mark, already overstretched, only to clumsily extend another 10 minutes with tagged-on material that includes a limply humorous debate about the significance of hummus.
The title comes from a somewhat dangerous plunge off the seawall that is a favored rite of passage for locals. This “leap of faith” provides a rote visual metaphor for their struggle, with the docu’s here predictably consisting of several minutes’ diving footage. Lensing shows off the architectural and natural beauties of the area. But the three director-producers’ inability to come up with stronger narrative or thematic organization makes “It’s Better to Jump” play like the professionally polished side product of a vacation stay.