“Return To Haifa: The Other’s Story” – A New Documentary of Cameri Theatre Production

Last night saw the screening of a new film by David Goldenberg, presented at the University of California buidling in front of students, community well-wishers and the cast and creative nucleus of The Admission.

RETURN TO HAIFA: THE OTHER’S STORY is a documentary about the making of the international stage production of RETURN TO HAIFA based on the novella by Ghassan Kanafani, adapted for The Cameri Theatre by Boaz Gaon.
It is filmed, produced, and edited by David A. Goldenberg, who’s documented several of Theater J’s “Voices From a Changing Middle East Festivals” over the years
(see the Voices On Video link for an archive of David’s videos for PANGS OF THE MESSIAH, THE ACCIDENT, and early segments of RETURN TO HAIFA.)
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A discussion with filmmaker and director Sinai Peter was held following the screening. Looking forward to comments from those who were in attendance last night!

Return to Haifa: “the other’s story” TRAILER

from David Goldenberg — official film blurb:

“Our film concerns the first mainstream Israeli play to deal with how the events of 1948 affected both sides. Adapted from the novella of controversial Palestinian writer, Ghassan Kanafani, “Return to Haifa”, forced everyone in the theater – cast, audience, and the creative team – to confront ‘the other’s story’”

34 thoughts on ““Return To Haifa: The Other’s Story” – A New Documentary of Cameri Theatre Production

  1. The showing of the documentary, “Return to Haifa” was very impressive, as it provided what has been missing in current political discourse on the Middle East Conflict, specifically involving the Israeli-Palestinian issue: an approach of moderation showing what happened to those on both sides of the conflict. I was impressed how the director of the documentary was able to produce a film that showed the plight of an Arabic family displaced by the events of the 1948 war as well as the effects of the displacement on a Jewish family. Further, this film added to the sentiment of many who believe that the conflict is so highly politicized that it is rare that a true history of the conflict’s events is portrayed but rather one sides opinion of the events is the subject of an article, film or production. On this note, It was very enlightening how the documentary made note of the political ramifications of seemingly apolitical actions, such as sports team allegiance in Israel. This shows how politicized the conflict has become. Further, the documentary accurately shows how stereotypes of what should and should not be shown in a “Jewish Theater” are broken and how the challenging of widely held notions about the Right of Return are presented in atypical environments. Most of all, I was impressed with the courage of the directors of the film and of Theater J to place into production a play that was so controversial to many in the Jewish Community. It will be interesting to look back a year later at the effects of and the reaction to the upcoming performance of “The Admission” and determine how the reaction differed and whether community members emerged with an increased understanding of the conflict or whether preconceived notions were simply too difficult to overcome.

    • Daniel, I’m confused by your comment, “Further, this film added to the sentiment of many who believe that the conflict is so highly politicized that it is rare that a true history of the conflict’s events is portrayed but rather one sides opinion of the events is the subject of an article, film or production.” It seems to me that this film, and the performance it portrays, actually breaks this stereotype in almost every way. A mainstream Israeli theater and Israeli director staged a performance based on a Palestinian novel that deals kindly, compassionately, with both sides of the conflict and with both families. While some audience members may have interpreted it as an Israeli “hijacking” of a Palestinian work, I think overall it challenged the contention that no one can empathetically portray the conflict. The conflict is indeed politicized, but the performance breaks through this barrier by making the story about families and individuals, rather than about politics, and the documentary follows this example.

      • Chloe, in an effort to clear up confusion, the documentary did break stereotypes about the portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, by portraying the conflict in terms of the stories of two families both of which were distraught breaks the conflict down into terms that it should not be broken into as at its root it is a military conflict that would never have been contested anywhere else in the world. Thus, by shifting the lens of portrayal to two very compelling family stories, much of the portrayal does indeed involve matters of opinion especially regarding the right of return and the fact that the documentary did not present the 1948 war as a final military victory does, a disservice to the viewers by not setting the stories of plight within the full historical context and continues the politicization by resorting to portrayals of the nagative effects of the conflict on two families.

    • I am trying to understand the reasoning of your comment in terms of the military aspect of it. I think that’s where we differ in opinions. The longest-lasting effects of military use are felt in the lives of the people affected. Dismissing individual struggles as not relating to the whole is all a bit nearsighted to me. The main of the job is that it sought to break the conflict down into human terms. At its most basic root, the conflict is in fact, human.

      Especially now, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is being carried on more and more by people who weren’t part of the original war. It’s all about human interaction — this is the only way it continues on, and it’s the only way it will be solved. While always important to understand a cultural discrepancy (this is definitely understating the historical nature of Israeli-Palestinian relations) at a macro-level, it is also important to remember that the human condition is built on the micro-level as well. It’s all about the people.

  2. “Return to Haifa: The Other’s Story” was a piece of film art about a piece of theatrical art, and it was remarkable that through that lens, the empathy intrinsic to both the play and the audience’s reaction was still deeply affecting.

    We had a discussion following the screening about whether we, as students, had enough historical context to understand and appreciate the play and the controversy surrounding it. As someone in international relations, I’ve had very light contact with the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but much more with the current politics. For me, though, the documentary wasn’t a story dependent on deep historical knowledge any more than the play is. Both stories seem to follow the human conflicts and experiences that are common to all people: they tell of families and making, and leaving, a home.

    It’s remarkable that a Palestinian author who was considered a terrorist was able to treat both the Israeli story and the Palestinian story with equal compassion. Furthermore, as evidenced in the documentary, a mainstream stage in Tel Aviv carried on the tradition from the other side.

    In the post-screening discussion, one of the speakers—I can’t recall which—said that “Return to Haifa,” and the emotional reactions of audience members from all walks of life, were doing what theater is supposed to do. I couldn’t agree more. Theater itself is an incredible vehicle for empathy because it begins with individuals diving into the lives of others, and continues with those individuals sharing those lives with an audience. Theater tells stories through empathy, through the actors finding a connection with the characters they portray. “Return to Haifa” is both a very difficult example of this, and a very successful one.

    The documentary did a beautiful job showing the impact that “Return to Haifa” had both in Israel and here in the US. I look forward to seeing a similarly controversial and ambitious show, “The Admission,” and to experiencing its shockwaves.

    • Chloe – I was also surprised that such a controversial figure in history was able to write a story about the Conflict that seemed so willing to tell both sides. Not only that, but to tell them in a way that was sympathetic to both of the sides. I think that it’s important that this story has roots in both Palestine and Israel. The original author was Palestinian, and a Jewish man wrote the adaptation. One part of the documentary that I thought was interesting were the comments on how some Palestinians, upon hearing about Theater J’s version of “Return to Haifa” might be skeptical of its empathy toward the Palestinian voices in the Conflict. Theater J, after all, is a Jewish Theater, and the director of the show was also Jewish. However, I think the play itself was empathetic toward both Israelis and Palestinians. Moreover, like you say, I think the play is successful in stirring up emotional reactions from people across the board, even those who don’t have a stake in the Conflict. Those are just some of the reasons I really appreciated “Return to Haifa,” as well as its documentary.

    • Chloe, I really liked your comment: “Both stories seem to follow the human conflicts and experiences that are common to all people: they tell of families and making, and leaving, a home.” I also really liked that the documentary inspired so much empathy and understanding. I thought it was an objective look at the conflict historically; however, the interviews with the director, playwright, and different community members really played on my emotions. I think the documentary really highlights that there can be common ground in this conflict between the two groups. In addition, it emphasizes the oneness of humanity and our desire and love for our homes and families and preciousness of life.

    • Chloe, I agree with you when you state, “It’s remarkable that a Palestinian author who was considered a terrorist was able to treat both the Israeli story and the Palestinian story with equal compassion.” In a region so deeply routed in historical and religious diversity, a so-called terrorist interestingly attempts the bridging of this divide. I also thought that the film treated both stories equally and fairly. In my opinion, the stories and testimonies from the interviewees were balanced and made the conflict more relatable. Like you said, the documentary showed the impact of the play very well in both Israel and the United States. These interviews also helped demonstrate this impact in addition to their narrative roles in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    • Chloe, I really enjoy all of your contributions (both in-class and on the blog). It is clear to me that you have a deep appreciation for theater and everything related (from the talk-backs to the other events we have been engaged in). I really appreciate how you acknowledge that we might never get the full historical context of the play. I certainly will never fully understand the histories and stories that the play illuminated. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous coming into this knowing that I would learn about histories that are deeply politicized. I do think that theater has the power to infuse both people with empathy. This in turn allows us to feel closer to a certain group of people and perhaps learn more about their histories. I think this is really the point of theater.

  3. One of the first thoughts I had while reading “Return to Haifa” was that it reminded me of a film I’d recently watched called Philomena. Philomena (which was in the running for a few Oscars this year) tells the true story of an Irish women who was forced to give up her baby to a group of Catholic nuns who then adopted them out. At the start of the film, Philomena is an elderly woman who is searching for the son she never really had the chance to meet in life.

    Clearly, at least at a surface glance, Philomena and “Return to Haifa” have similarities. They both tell the tale of mothers who were forced to give up their babies, and make an effort later in life to be reunited. Shortly into “Return to Haifa,” however, it became clear that “Return to Haifa” would in many ways, be unlike any other story I’d experienced, including Philomena.

    I am not an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Most of my information comes from what I’ve learned in school. I certainly don’t have any personal connections to it. Maybe this influenced my view of the play, but I enjoyed the play a great deal. I thought it gave fair representation to both sides involved. I also thought it did an excellent job of creating an emotional response in the audience. One part of Goldenberg’s documentary that I really enjoyed was hearing about the reactions of people who watched “Return to Haifa” who had lost loved ones to the Israeli Palestinian Conflict on both sides. I can only imagine how emotional a play like this would be to them. I may not have the same reaction as these people, but I think in a way, watching a play like this can help me understand the emotions of these people from both sides of the conflict.

    • Megan – I value your comparison to the movie Philomena; I have not seen this movie, but your post has made me interested in seeing this movie in the near future. I enjoyed the complexities of the variety of stories within the “Return to Haifa.” I can relate to you because I am not very familiar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict besides what I have learned in a few courses at my university. I enjoyed this film although I don’t have much experience with this region. However, this documentary was great at fusing the major themes of the play in addition to scenes from the actual performance. I would have liked to see the actual play “Return to Haifa,” it seems like it has a powerful message. Lastly, the short clips that highlighted the reactions and major themes of this play, were very useful at providing both background information and enacting emotion to the audience.

  4. Return to Haifa felt to me like a basement-style documentary. There weren’t a lot of bells and whistles in terms of effects, or even title screens. It seemed to be a behind-the-scenes look at he motivation and sentiment behind the play. And I think this was exactly the intent. The most important part of the documentary was its approach. It was concurrently engaged and passive, candid and objective. Haifa was a supplementary reflection to the themes and reactions to the play.

    The strongest part of the documentary was its assembly. It invited viewers not familiar with the conflict to sit back and listen. I enjoyed how the film wove together clips from the play with interviews and pictures. It allowed for a nuanced look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One of the most undervalued concepts in entertainment is the intelligence level of the viewers. In this case, I didn’t feel like the documentary thought it was above me, or that I was not capable of forming my own opinions when presented with an objective look – it assumed basic understand while giving me the “behind the scenes” look that is generally so effective for forming opinions. I never felt forced into any kind of intellectual conclusion.

    The emotional center of the documentary for me was when the man talked about how his family was split up so some of them would stand a better chance of surviving the holocaust. It can be really easy to look at the current state of things and remember why events are so emotionally charged in the first place. Sourcing an issue from a humanistic perspective helps people to better understand current trajectory. For current comparison’s sake, I want to reference 9/11. It’s easy to forget the reasoning behind why America is so hopelessly entangles in the Middle East and its global fight on terror. One look at the videos of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center on live television, and I am instantly reminded of the event that brought this country to its knees.

    Haifa served its purpose of starting a dialogue and leaving the viewer with something to chew on. My only criticism is the pacing – at times it felt slow, and the momentum seemed a little bit broken. This detracted a bit from the force of the argument – while it had emotional parts, I never felt any sort of “aha” moment either. With an issue as controversial as this though, a documentary that is trying not to offend seems like the most logical choice of filmmaking.

    • Garrett I think we’ve had very similar reactions to the documentary we just saw. You recognize that this is not a blockbuster production but still appreciate what it is able to accomplish, and I definitely agree. I especially like what you say about being able to formulate your own opinion based on an objective production. “Return to Haifa”, the play, gives two sides that do not have characteristics of a winner and loser or of a hero and villain. Not only does this give the audience freedom to make an opinion, it makes it really impossible to choose who is right and who is wrong in the story. After reading the script and watching the movie, I was even more ambivalent than before about what the moral ending would be to this family dilemma. As the director pointed out, the son in this story represents the land that these two populations are fighting over, and this story symbolizes how the answer is never clear cut as to who deserves it. For me, it was a metaphor that added to my understanding (or maybe lack thereof) of this conflict.

  5. Before seeing “Return to Haifa: The Other’s Story”, on a scale of 1 to 10 of how much I knew about the Israel-Palestine conflict (10 is an expert and 1 is having no knowledge of the issue), I would say I was a 2. I was pretty ignorant on the matter besides what I learned in international relations classes. All I knew was the countries, to put it frankly, didn’t like each other. After viewing the documentary, I feel like my knowledge on the subject has reached a 6. I think this is in large part due to the combination of the footage of the play “Return to Haifa” at Theater J and the testimonies and stories from a wide array of people, both Israeli and Palestinian. The interviews with the director of the play, Sinai Peter, and the playwright, Boaz Gaon, really contributed a lot too. I liked how they were sprinkled throughout the movie, moving from history of the conflict itself, scenes at Theater J, and the other interviews, but not in any certain, linear order. I think this made for a nice flow that was much more interesting and attention grabbing than watching long blocks of interviews or scenes, one after the other.
    There were a lot of special touches that added a personal sentiment like pictures of the interviewees from when they were younger. The emotional appeals really captured my attention, and helped facilitate my learning about the conflict, more than a purely historical perspective or objective look at the “Return to Haifa scenes” would have. I think David Goldenberg did a good job in not making it feel it was just a history lesson, a documentary of a play, or dialogues about people’s lives. It was a great combination of all of them.
    I do wish there had been more discussion and background of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think the description of Ghassan Kanafani helped; however, I would have loved a GoogleEarth zoom-in at the beginning just to see geographically the area in contention. I am not sure what audience this is aimed at; however, if it is a general audience, people like me might be a bit confused at first. By the end of the movie I felt really comfortable with my understanding of the conflict and the play. If the audience is people in Israel, then I think the play accomplished what it intended to do. No matter who you are, after viewing the “Return to Haifa: The Other’s Story” documentary, you definitely left with a much greater understanding of the conflict as well as empathy for both sides. Both groups of people were displaced and wronged and I think the film did a great job of highlighting the injustices that cause these tensions to exist.

    • Kelly, I too would say that I was not very knowledgable about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am still not as educated about it as I should be, but the documentary did give me a basic idea of the historical context of the conflict and helped me see the people affected by it. I also liked how the documentary moved from interviews to the play to history. The movement kept me entertained. However, I did feel that there were some plot or development gaps where I was confused about commentary because I was not familiar with the 1948 conflict or other background information, so less jumping around or more development would have been helpful here.

      • I agree that there were some gaps in the storytelling. I knew the basic story – the Palestinians were displaced but they came back – and was able to fill most of the gaps in around that simple narrative, but I’m sure I missed some things just by coming to the table with a limited knowledge.

        A similar problem I found was a lack of history for the play itself. As some students said in the post-show discussions, I was a little sketchy on how the story changed from a novella to a play to another adaptation of the play. When did the ending change? When was it first produced? When did the movie come into play? Again, I think some time was spent on this, but for someone so unfamiliar with the basic story, a bit more background would have been appreciated.

    • I agree that the film accurately showed the connections that its interviewees have to the conflict. I think the film did a good job of contextualizing the conflict by comparing it to the Holocaust and I agree that the film definitely showed powerful individual emotions. I also would have liked to see more historical context and I think that the film could have accomplished this without making it a history lesson. Without historical context, the viewer is unable to organize the interviews and their narratives effectively and is therefore forced to accept all of the individual emotions and arguments at face value.

  6. “Return to Haifa: The Other’s Story” did indeed show both sides of the Israeli Palestinian conflict by focusing on the production, presentation, and discussion surrounding the play “Return to Haifa.” Intimate details about the production were shared through interviews, such as the fact that the script was dynamic to the point that in the scene with the argument between the Israeli mother and Palestinian mother, the Palestinian actress knows that her character would respond to the Israeli in that situation, so lines were added to the script.

    Further, another interviewee said that while some people saw some scenes as being comical, such as the Palestinian father knowing exactly how many feathers were in a vase in the house, the interviewee found it very sad – sad because of how familiar the Palestinian family must have been with their house, their decorations, their community, and more, before being forced to leave.

    Scenes like these humanize the characters to the point where the audience can see the actual stories of people involved in the conflict. We can relate to the people in a way that is not possible when just given news stories about the conflict, or faceless numbers about how many people have been killed or injured.

    So, through the documentary, we relate to the characters in the play “Return to Haifa,” and we relate to those who were in the process of creating and showing the play through interviews.

    This is important for understanding the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Also important are the pictures that are shown throughout the documentary that many people in the audience said they had never seen before, despite being familiar with the topic and stories. These helped engage the audience in the stories that interviewees told, such as those about their experiences in the Holocaust.

    • Throughout the semester I have learned that Political Theatre gives us a personal look at political topics. It allows us to connect, relate, and experience political topics through an individual’s story. Political non-fiction, on the other hand, is supposed to give us straight facts with no personal stories; personal stories can distort the truth and the focus in too closely, so they can’t tell the whole story. I think you have an interesting observation, Bridget, that through the documentary we relate to the characters in the play. Often times we expect documentaries to be more non-fiction than art, but that is not the case in David Goldenberg’s Return to Haifa. He really gives us a personal story, and I think that is something that is difficult to accomplish.

    • Bridget, I agree with you that individual stories, such as the ones told in “Return to Haifa” and the ones shared by those who were interviewed for the documentary are just as important, if not more so, than facts and figures regarding details of a particular battle. I too appreciated Goldenberg’s choice to include the individual stories of audience members who had a direct connection with the conflict. Listening to the different reactions to the play remind us how important it is to create an environment where people of different backgrounds can openly share their different opinions and different stories.

      I did want to note that it was the playwright that expressed the opinion that it is sad, not funny, that Sa’id remembers the exact number of feathers in a vase. I wonder whether the humor was intentional, or whether the scene became comical because audience members deemed it so.

  7. In Return to Haifa, David Goldenberg attempts the interesting project of documenting the making of one form of art, a play of the same name, through another form of art, film. Goldenberg mentioned in our post-viewing discussion last Thursday that there have been very few documentaries made about plays. It’s definitely a tricky thing to do because you are trying to condense a two hour play, not to mention hours of history and reaction, into an 84 minute film. I do think, however, Goldenberg did a good job.

    Because of the time constraints, there are obviously going to be things left out. I do wish, however, that Goldenberg had allowed a little more time for discussion of the audience’s reactions. This play is meant to start conversations. It would have been very interesting to see how specific audience members responded to the play. Goldenberg does a good job of giving us enough scenes from the play so that we understand the play, and even develop an emotional reaction. We get to see some of the more moving parts of the play, and we know how we react to these parts. If the point of the play, however, is to start a broader discussion about Israel, 1948, the conflict in the Middle East and even conflicts around the world, then I think it is necessary to see how other people reacted to the play.

    I asked Goldenberg to describe how reactions differed in Israel and DC, and, while he did not spend too much time comparing and contrasting, he did admit it was something he would have liked to include more of. I liked the documentary, and I thought it did a good job of describing the impact Return to Haifa had and continues to have. I would have preferred, however, to see the impact the play can have through real people’s reactions.

    • Joe, I remember you asking Goldenberg about the different reactions between Israel and DC. And I too, was fascinated by this question. I can only imagine how different the two reactions might be. In Israel, the story of 1948 is very much a part of their lives even after so many years. Israelis confront the story of 1948 every day and are, of course so protective over their country as it is still relatively new and even more so, fragile. It would be incredibly rich and powerful to compare and contract the audience’s reactions as well as coverage of the performances between Israel and DC. Even after a simple google search (As I have just done one) it seems that it would be difficult to do such a comparison… yet it would definitely be interesting! I hope that moving forward with his documentary Goldenberg includes more about audience’s reactions and sentiments regarding “Return to Haifa.”

  8. I am not a documentary person. I once saw the documentary March of the Penguins in a movie theater and fell asleep. I was skeptical about watching “Return To Haifa: The Other’s Story,” especially after a 9 hour workday. I was, however, pleasantly surprised. “Return to Haifa: The Other’s Story,” really hit home for me. Last May, I spent 10 days gallivanting around Israel. The entire trip of course, was very pro-Israel. I never, not once, heard “the other’s story.” This documentary was incredibly eye opening. It also made me feel incredibly naïve. In the course of the trip, I was told details accounts of both the 1948 and the Six Days War. Not once did I think about the events from the Palestinian perspective.

    I was completely absorbed by the documentary, “Return to Haifa: The Other’s Story.” So much, that it made me want to not only return to Israel but also to see the play, “Return to Haifa.” The first, because I feel as though it would be a unique opportunity to see the story of Israel unfold not just from the Israeli perspective. The second, because I was so moved by only clippings of the performance, I could only imagine how powerful the actual play must be.

    The ending of the documentary was by far my favorite. I got teary-eye when both moms started singing a lullaby to their son. It was both bitter and sweet. It was chilling. It was a powerful way to end a powerful documentary. The cut to the credits with the song still playing allowed the audience to let the meaning of both perspectives really sink in.

    The documentary did a great job of giving a behind-the-scenes look at “Return to Haifa.” Every part of the play’s performance at Theater J had care of details and precision in it. For instance- the set design. The fact that an old tile was used as inspiration shows just how dedicated the entire team was to creating and fostering authenticity within the performance of “Return to Haifa.”

  9. The viewing of “Return to Haifa: The Other’s Story” gave lots of insight on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Especially for an individual, like myself, who does not know very much about the history of the region, the documentary shed new and informing light onto the subject. However, I still felt that the film lacked a deeper explanation of the situation in the region. It was clear that there was a rift in the region, but it did not give a clear and expansive run-through. This is understandable and expected. The point of the film was not to give a history lesson, rather to shed light on the crisis and how the play looked at it in a new way.

    I appreciated how the documentary gave equal insights to the two sides of the story. The testimonies and stories given by the interviewees were powerful and moving. In my opinion, they gave the conflict faces. The play and the crisis became relatable and real to someone, like myself, who has no connection to the region or history.

    The film also highlighted the effects of the play in both Israel and the United States in a very powerful way. Interviewees from both nations shared how the play related directly to them. One testimony stuck out to me. I do not remember the man’s name, however, he shared how he personally related to the play in the documentary. He associated with the son in the “Return to Haifa,” as he grew up in the care of someone who was not his mother or father, and was later reunited with his mother. His story was powerful and gave the documentary and play a deeper meaning.

    Overall, the film was very well organized. Following the plot of the play and letting the play dictate the course of the film made the stories and information seem natural. Everything meshed well to create an informative documentary.

  10. “Return to Haifa: The Other’s Story” did an excellent job explaining the development of the Israeli adaptation of “Return to Haifa.” I think if offered enough background on the conflict to interest a novice audience, while striving to explain the controversy and various viewpoints about the play that would interest an audience with any amount of background knowledge. For me, the most important aspect of this film was its explanation of the controversy surrounding adapting a play by Ghassan Kanafani. I have not read any of his work, so my knowledge of him is based on his role as a spokesman for the PFLP and the accusations about his involvement in various terrorist actions. While I have not seen the adaptation of “Return to Haifa,” the explanatory film made a very strong case that there was more to Khanafani than my perspective of him as the PFLP’s spokesman. I would have liked the film to discuss his role in this organization more because I feel that it is a crucial aspect of his life and would give the viewer greater insight into the author’s motives when expressing his narrative. The film successfully promotes a dialogue about Khanafani and the conflict. I am not sure that it reconciled Khanafani’s dichotomous identity, but it did make me want to read Palestinian literature and try to understand the narrative better. I would have also liked to see more about the different adaptations and the Israeli version’s altered ending. Discussing and comparing these adaptations could lead to excellent insights into how different groups view the literature and the conflict. This could have also helped explain the controversy surrounding the performances by showing what different cultures are willing to tolerate. Overall, the film was very well organized and combined an excellent balance of entertaining cuts from the Israeli adaptation with educational interviews.

  11. Watching the “Return to Haifa: The Other’s Story” was a great film that combined a variety of themes in the play “Return to Haifa,” in addition to reactions, testimony’s from actors and a variety of criticisms that this play encountered. I was impressed most by the visuals that were provided of Haifa and the organization of this film. Although, I did not have much background on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I feel that the filmmaker did a great job at simplifying these events into smaller stories that were more understandable. This was the first documentary that I saw that was based on a play; after viewing this film I was eager to watch the play myself. Reading, “Return to Haifa,” was a difficult task because I wasn’t sure who the characters were and what there relationships were to each other. The film was successful at identifying the characters; I gravitated to Miriam because she was both compelling and relatable.

    I enjoyed the mix of interviews and testimony’s of Holocaust survivors as well as the playwright and actors. These interviews added a personal sentiment that the audience could easily gravitate too. Not only did the film provided knowledge from both parties of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; it was useful to see the challenges that Theatre J faced when trying to put this production together. The filmmaker used emotion to compel his audience, which was a tactful approach that worked well in this case. David Goldenberg made his documentary strong by not inputting data from a variety of sources. After the viewing of this film there was some discussion about not using the materials from the post-show discussion. I think that editing this portion out of his documentary was a great call; by including this mechanism Mr. Goldenberg was at risk of confusing his audience and taking time to explain his reasoning for adding in this post-show talk. I understand that this documentary covers a sensitive topic and many of the comments could have been counterproductive to what the filmmaker was trying to accomplish.

    I understand that this documentary is meant for a certain demographic or audience but I do think it would have been beneficial to add more background information into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict overall. This documentary has the potential to inform, provide history and include significant scenes from the actual play. Following this film, I felt a sense of empathy for both sides of the conflict. The themes of the actual play fit well into the documentary; they were well developed and broke down the necessary takeaways from this piece of art. There were some references within the film and in the post-show talk that I didn’t understand initially, I found myself researching parts of it on my free time. The film stressed that one of its main goals was to tell both sides of the story. To what extent was this goal satisfied? There was definitely adequate time in the film dedicated to both groups and some of the challenges they faced.

  12. In the wake of last week’s midterm discussions, wherein we all laid out our own journeys as theatergoers and our thoughts regarding the various productions we’ve seen this semester, I have been considering the unique privilege of the viewer to assign meaning to a performance. It blew me away that, of the sixteen students, we came up with sixteen different themes for our presentations. We all saw the same play and heard the same lines, but the things we felt and thought were completely individual. Communal experience. Singular reaction.

    To follow this with “Return To Haifa: The Other’s Story” was a fitting transition into the rest of the semester. After all, the play is about the very different reactions that stemmed from a single event. The Palestinians fled Haifa and returned twenty years later, so objectively there is one story – but there is so much more to it when you examine it on an individual basis. Sons lost. Sons gained. Families broken and created. The play really emphasizes exactly what I’d been considering after the midterm discussion, that we all bring our own experiences to an event and therefore cannot help but experience it differently, and that was a wonderful fit.

    However, the part that really struck this home was the filmmaker’s decision to include audience reactions to the play. I thought about the play for a while after I read the script. It was a haunting story, how could I not? But then to hear the reactions from people who survived the Holocaust, who were taken from their homes, who understood the story in a way that I will never be able to – once again, the play did not impart a single meaning but allowed viewers to carefully consider their positions and their roles in the conflict.

    I think that a play that successfully keeps itself neutral and allows the audience to engage on nothing but the basis of their own experiences is a rare thing, and I’m glad that there was a movie made about it. It deserves to be celebrated.

  13. Upon reading the script, “Return to Haifa,” I got the feeling that the play was not so much a complex production with an intricate plotline as it was a discussion between two mothers with two different stories. Watching the documentary, “Return to Haifa: The Other Story,” helped me realize that the play had much deeper implications that that. Not only did each audience member have some kind of emotional connection with the play, but also each actor. It was interesting to hear about the actors’ excitement or apprehension in being cast member of “Return to Haifa,” and how each member brought something new to the final product.

    There were some things I was curious about that I think would have been interesting to include in the documentary. First, the documentary briefly touched on how the play was controversial, but did not show to what extent. Opponents included Zionists that claimed the play was anti-Israel, and Palestinians that questioned a Jewish playwright’s decision to tell a Palestinian story. Though it is evident that protests were organized by the former, it was not clear what these protests looked like or what their argument was. If possible, I think it would have been interesting to interview someone that was against the production of the play, or someone who may have initially been critical, but was convinced otherwise after watching “Return to Haifa.” Second, I wanted to know in greater detail, how different was the theatrical adaptation from the novella? What did the playwright choose to include and to omit and why?

    Regardless, I really appreciated Goldenberg’s decision to pan the audience while members were watching “Return to Haifa,” and to include the personal stories of audience members who had a direct connection with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though I am somewhat familiar with the history of the region and make an effort to keep up with the news, I believe it is much more effective and much more important to listen to these individual stories and to create an open environment where different ideas and backgrounds can facilitate thought-provoking discussion.

  14. As someone who loves learning but doesn’t always love reading, documentaries hold a special place in my heart. Despite seeing many of them, I had never seen a documentary like “Return to Haifa”. I enjoyed this format because after some of our other plays, there will be a panel discussion that talks about the production of the play. “Return to Haifa” went well beyond that.

    As we all know, there was a significant amount of controversy that this play seemed to create, and I think the documentary format was a great way of conveying this issue to an audience. What I thought was the most interesting part of the protest was that the people protesting the play weren’t even seeing it. This is intolerance I can’t even fathom. How can you dislike something so much that you haven’t even experienced? I thought this was an interesting testament to intolerance in the world overall. If people would just give it a chance, they would see that “Return to Haifa” takes no side on the Arab-Israeli conflict. While the director, stage director, and playwright may very well have their own opinions, this documentary/play seemed to only comment on the issues of family, displacement, a home. This is what I received from the film anyways.

    The fact that it does seem to have a neutral stance on the conflict is not only enjoyable, it is pretty impressive. In a conflict where everyone seems to have an opinion and is constantly analyzing material like this, it was refreshing to find a play that discussed something new to me.

    • Alex, I had not given much thought to how to documentary format contributed to the telling of the story – but I definitely agree. Not only does the play present both sides, but the documentary successfully did as well. It did not belittle or ignore the controversy, nor take a stance, but simply presented the role it played when the play was being performed both in the United States as well as Israel.

      To add to your post, I also found the reactions to the play very intriguing. Like you mention, people that had not even seen the play were protesting that it was being performed. A mother refused to allow her children to see it for fear that “it would make them soft.” Some people simply left the theatre and cried. Return to Haifa struck a chord with almost everyone, and Goldenberg documented and presented the differing responses no matter if they were negative or positive – maintaining his reputation of presenting both sides of the controversy.

    • I paused when I read the sentence, “This is intolerance I can’t even fathom.” I understand where you’re coming from. To you, it seems crazy to hate something and speak out against it without even trying to understand the situation. But when I first read your sentence I thought to myself, this kind of intolerance is easy for me to grasp because it is so present in our lives. As a culture, when we aren’t comfortable with something or we don’t understand to something we tend to put it off as “bad” before we even try to relate to it or even comprehend what it is. In my post I write about how many in our generation in the U.S. are not as closely tied to this conflict as the individuals who went to see this play, and therefore we don’t have this “intolerance” outright because the concept of there being two sides to this story is not different than what we were raised on.

  15. The screening of David Goldenberg’s documentary “Return to Haifa” was much appreciated as a means of clarification and explanation following the reading of the original script, as well as reading and anticipating the opening night of The Admission. As I mentioned after the screening, I am unfamiliar with some of the details of the time period and the documentary provided some context as well as answered some of my lingering questions.

    The story of told through both the play and the documentary is one that is tragic yet absolutely fascinating, but also many times is lost or poorly communicated in the United States. The play alone is a touching piece, but to learn that it was inspired or adopted from a novella by Ghassan Kanafani – Palestinian writer and leading member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – is intriguing and notable. I was glad that Goldenberg’s documentary was able to provide us with that background, but I will admit that it was initially somewhat unclear. In the discussion that followed the documentary’s screening he mentioned that his target audience was people such as myself, unfamiliar or unaffiliated with the conflict, so my only suggestion is that it could be improved with the inclusion of slightly more details. I did not understand the significance of Kanafani at the time, and many commentators throughout his name over the course of the documentary. It was not until I was able to do a little reading about him afterwards that I finally discovered the significance of him as the writer of the novella that the play is adapted from, and just how alarming that detail is.

    Overall, I am grateful that I have a better grasp on the history of Haifa from watching Goldenberg’s work, and I am greatly looking forward to opening night of The Admission. While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a sensitive and controversial subject, I find it fascinating that it can be explored and discussed through the theatre. As I continue to reflect on my growing experience as a theatre-goer, I am starting to understand that playwrights do not have a duty to simply entertain us and the role of theatre is much greater than I initially imagined.

  16. Return to Haifa really centered the theme of this class Theater of Politics and the Politics of Theater. One thing I appreciated about the documentary was how balanced it was. Like many have mentioned, I do not think that the film was trying to be explicitly on one side of the conflict. I believe the documentary attempted to thread across some of the most profound issues in human conflicts: human pain. The way the documentary narrated the story of the women giving up her children was incredibly painful, but it was beautiful. The mother’s desire to be reunited with her child just has no words to explain.
    I do agree with my colleague, Chloe Hawker on the role of theater in activating empathy. This was one of the most memorable post-conversations of the entire semester. I really value how we are able to interact with community members that are not only students, but people with diverse set of experiences. The conversation after the documentary was very enlightening. A friend of mine (not in the class) told me, “you better be prepared for the worse… you are going to deal with some serious stuff.” This demonstrated the level of respect and openness that the community had when the director and play writer were facilitating conversation.
    The profiling of the Palestinian author was incredibly heart-wrenching. We have witnessed in many plays the role that categories and labels operate in our society; they often have large social consequences for those stereotyped as “terrorists”. No human being should have to go through this experience. Being a part of the space on Thursday made me realize that we have all grown together as a class. We all come from different backgrounds and some have deeper ties with the themes and issues of some of the plays we have seen.

  17. Going into this play with less than extensive background knowledge on the 1948 conflict did not mean I went into this film screening without stereotypes. This politically and religiously charged conflict lends itself to some of the more ugly parts of human nature: hate, jealousy, and ignorance. This particular issue is one I have a great interest in knowing more about, and definitely some of my own ideas as to which side I “support,” but without close personal ties to either of these groups of people I am not necessarily convinced about who is “right” and who isn’t.

    Many of the preconceived notions I walked into this film with were forgotten as I was captivated by this film and the stories captured by the filmmaker. To see both sides of the argument in a way that was less of a contest of who had it worse off and rather a forum for explaining many personal histories was refreshing.

    I enjoyed learning the filmmaker’s intended audience in the post show discussion. He noted this is targeted toward an American audience rather than an Israeli or Palestinian one. I think this documentary has potential to open the eyes of young Americans and prevent stereotypes and barriers to communication regarding this issue. For those of us who don’t have the “refugee mindset” of many Israelis and Palestinians, we are not automatically inclined to share a story of our own oppression when we hear a similar story from the “opposing side.” This presents us with a unique opportunity to really listen to each other in ways our peers living in the Middle East may not be accepting of initially. This film, if shown in schools, classes centered around this conflict, or even screened in homes, could open up a dialogue and really present an opportunity for communication at the very least.

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