This week I was fortunate to be able to see two Hot Docs films- free in the afternoon for students and seniors. One was the Oslo Diaries by Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan that through the personal diaries of both Palestinian and Israeli participants we relive the possibility of moving towards a peace accord. Although both sides feel antagonism and distaste for the other, the two sides are able to sit down in secret and work through towards a plan that will eventually return Gaza and Jericho to the Palestinians :for assertion that Israel will be recognized as a Jewish state. In the midst of focused serious talks, one man relates his revulsion of being kissed on both cheeks Palestinian- style. On going talks engender relationships among the participants who begin to view each other as human and eventually friends as partners. ( perhaps it was all initiated by that kiss?😘) The process is long culminating in Bill Clinton bringing Rabin and Arafat together to sign the accord. Arafat is revealed as wily, careful, able to withstand his people’s abhorrence to the deal and therefore towards him as their leader.
Years back when visiting the old section of Jerusalem,I could actually feel the palpable hatred of each quadrant in the Old City and I despaired of any negotiation wherein the emotions were so very very strong that even an exuberant tourist could became strongly aware of the fierce antagonism that required no cordons to mark them off. Yitzchak Rabin as well as Shimon Peres at his side are reviled by their own countrymen as traitors and murderers with Netanyahu leading the insurrection and warmongering .In the end with the assassination of Rabin, the workings of the Oslo Treaty are never put in place: peace still- even now-a distant cry. Arafat tells us that the bullet was meant to kill the deal, not just Rabin. Yet the film also relates that the individuals from both sides of the negotiating team had grown close, losing their antipathy to one another, remaining in touch until their deaths. I would call this a kind of endurance, a quest for peace that overcame all reasons that might have kept the two factions apart.
In the second Hot Doc entitled This Mountain Life by Grant Baldwin, a daughter and her 60 year old mother, Tania and Martina Halik, decide they will travel through the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, commencing in Vancouver to Skagwag in Alaska on foot and ski. They know it will consume maybe 5- 6months of their lives. They dehydrate enough food that will be airdropped at various locations, but must travel with all else such as bedding, a small stove, etc. with them. It will be the coldest winter in years often dropping to -25 degrees. To ensure we realize how arduous this task is the film begins as a photographer on a day of fun with friends is suddenly caught beneath a small avalanche that buries him in more than four meters below the surface of the mountain.
With glimpses of artists who have chosen to use snow and wood as their media, living on and off the mountains, the filmmakers take us into mountain life, ensuring that we gape in awe at the dancing lights of the mythical aurora borealis, the majestic views that recall Lauren Harrison at his most mystical, mesmerizing glassy blue ice fields ,the slop and curve of the snow that catch the mom so off guard that she weeps, humbly celebrating,”This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. “
It is the mom who in her words also acknowledges that when you think you can’t go on, you can, underlining that we hold more endurance in ourselves than we believed possible. In spite of the protracted time together, we get small information about the two women, save Martina’s comment that her mother’s feet really stink! Yet we are told of this woman’s escaping Czechoslovakia under Russian control through snowy mountain paths, freezing streams eventually arriving in Switzerland and being given refugee status in Canada: the one and only pathetic detail of the mom placing her tuque over her pregnant stomach in an attempt to keep it warm in the formidable mountainous conditions.
I thought of course of this notion of endurance , attempting to measure myself and my family by the yardsticks offered in each film. I thought of my mother when my father’s diagnosis of polio required she meet and exceed her own fragile strength and the thought must have been daunting: to be in your early twenties with a young child( me), and an unknown future; no help or support offered by family and like a crazed Jean of Arc, facing your own demons and striking out on your own mountain path, your sword drawn to ward off the words, warnings and warfare to be encountered. And with your armour barely covering, you forge ahead unable to turn back. In Oslo Diaries, they reasserted they could not think of the terrible past in the Middle East, of bombings, fights, confrontation, murders, explosions, and blood. They had to dismiss a past of terror as they sought a means to forge forward for their children and the future.
In this Mountain Life, I suppose the participants wanted to prove they could overcome physical hurdles. For me this felt like madness, being controlled by the whim of temperamental Nature, impersonal. At least in combat among other humans who would make sport of our desires, the volley is personal. Like the frigid trees that eventually turn to green in the continuous turn of the seasons, the impartiality of the landscape adds to the stress or indifference towards these two women in the film as we wonder will they surmount or succumb on their momentous journey. I suppose some people insist on climbing every mountain and as I comprehend the need for some for personal best, this 6 month test against all odds . When I retold this quest to my Pilates instructor, she innocently queried, “But , where did they shower?”
That they survived may have been due to guardian angels who did in fact vouchsafe their journey. Maybe it’s a Jewish thing not to tempt fate, or push beyond reasonable limits. And I imagine a cynical joke by a swarthy comedian about there being enough “suris” or misery in the world without going without matzoh balls for more than a few weeks. And all jokes aside, the opening sequence in the mountains that dramatizes how the capricious nature of the terrain almost costs the photographer his life reveals, reinforces that this was no walk in the park – and had not his friends not been trained in avalanche recovery, his story would have ended tragically.
In the end, we all climb our own mountains- whether in the quiet of our homes or out in the frosty streams and majestic topography of Alaska.