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With: Moishe Bar Am, B.Z. Goldberg, Sanabel Hassan, Faraj Adnan Hassan Husein, Mahmoud Mazen Mahmoud Izhiman, Schlomo, Daniel Solan, Yarko Solan
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Justine Shapiro, B. Z. Goldberg, Carlos Bolado
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: English, Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles
Running Time: 102
Date: 01/30/2001

Promises (2002)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

A 'Promise' Kept

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Justine Shapiro, B. Z. Goldberg and Carlos Bolado's Promises played successfully at the 2001 San Francisco International Film Festival, at the 2001 Jewish Film Festival, at several special screenings around town and on PBS, and it ended the year with an Oscar nomination. Every time you turned around, there it was. And finally, after a long wait, some slow-witted distributor has decided it's time to give the film a regular theatrical release. Not that I mind. Despite the fact that just about every San Franciscan has seen it already, Promises remains a powerful and heart-rending documentary. And if you're one of the few who hasn't seen it, for Pete's sake, go do it now! It opens today at the Opera Plaza.

Shapiro, Goldberg and Bolado began with a simple idea: They would look at the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the eyes of seven children between the ages of 9 and 13, all living within minutes of each other, but on different sides of the border. The directors filmed 170 hours of footage and narrowed it down to these two. Each child is amazingly articulate and intelligent, and each already has strong opinions about whom Israel really belongs to. Without the film ever blatantly saying so, we know that all of these children already have been molded by hate. They've been force-fed grown-up rhetoric while their young minds are still foaming with childish ideas, which occasionally slip out. In one scene, a young rabbi-in-training named Shlomo forgets himself and exchanges a comical belch with a passing Arab boy.

The film takes a powerful turn when Goldberg, who appears on camera as an interviewer, brings the Israeli twins Yarko and Daniel to spend a day with their Palestinian neighbor Faraj. They play games and eat lunch and bond over their love for sports. At the end of the day, the children come to understand each other's point of view. They decide that the war will never end unless people really get to know one another. Faraj and Yarko and Daniel promise to keep in touch.

Most of this footage was filmed in 1997 and 1998 -- five and six years ago. Already the kids in the movie have grown up to be young adults. Goldberg returned in 2000 to shoot a heartbreaking epilogue showing the children slightly older, but already hardened in their beliefs -- ready to be a new crop of soldiers in a futile war. We learn that Faraj made continued attempts to call Yarko and Daniel, but gave up when they would not return his calls. What sets Promises apart is that despite its wide-eyed appeal for peace, it keeps its feet planted firmly in reality and refuses to preach or spout messages. And it's smart enough not to leave us with any false hopes.

Best Buy Co, Inc.