Documentary 'Death in the Terminal' will receive its U.S. premiere in Chicago this weekend
Michael Smith | March 29, 2017
The second annual Doc10 Film Festival will take place at the Davis Theater from Thursday, March 30 through Sunday, April 2. As with last year’s impressive debut lineup, Doc10 will again highlight the best in contemporary nonfiction cinema by presenting the local premieres of 10 important documentaries curated by Anthony Kaufman (who also programmed the documentary slate at the Chicago International Film Festival for the past two years). While I was impressed with each of the four titles I have been able to preview so far (at least one of which, the much buzzed-about Rat Film, will certainly return to Chicago screens at some point this year), my favorite of the bunch is the lower-profile Death in the Terminal, an Israeli movie that will be receiving not just its Chicago premiere at Doc10, but its U.S. premiere as well. Although the running time clocks in at a lean 52 minutes, this incredibly complex and disturbing documentary by co-directors Tali Shemesh and Asaf Sudry does more to explain the culture of violence in the Middle East today than any other single work of art I know of. This is perhaps because it focuses on a single 18-minute incident (a terrorist attack at a bus station in Israel, and its immediate aftermath) in a way that feels like a microcosm of the conflict as a whole.
Death in the Terminal dramatically juxtaposes surveillance video footage from multiple security cameras—plus one eyewitness cell phone video—with interviews with six subjects (including police officers, a falafel vendor, an EMT and a couple of civilian bystanders) in order to piece together what happened in Beersheba in 2015 when an Israeli soldier was senselessly gunned down by a terrorist and, equally senselessly, an innocent Eritrean refugee was mistakenly lynched in response. The film plays out like a negative version of Keith Maitland’s Tower, the superb animated doc from last year that focused on the heroism of civilians and police during the 1966 sniper shootings at the University of Texas in Austin. But where Maitland’s humanist movie showed people “doing the right thing” in the face of tragedy, Shemesh and Sudry’s darker and thornier work focuses on people who did the wrong thing, thereby perpetuating an insane cycle of violence and retribution. Shemesh and Sudry also thankfully have no interest in pointing fingers or casting easy blame: their film explicitly challenges viewer assumptions about how we might react in similar circumstances, a provocation nowhere more apparent than in a haunting final shot where security-cam footage is run backwards. As soon as it's over you may feel that you need to watch it again.
Death in the Terminal screens at the Davis Theater on Saturday, April 1 at 9:15pm followed by a Skype Q&A with the filmmakers. More information on DOC10, including the full lineup, can be found on the DOC10 website.