This series spans more than thirty years of activity by Amos Gitai, beginning with Architecture, a short film from 1978. This film, made when the filmmaker still planned to pursue a career in architecture, already contained signs of the critical dimension that would be confirmed in his later documentaries. Gitai became a filmmaker when he made House in 1980. With its return visits and continuations in 1998 (A House in Jerusalem) and 2005 (News from Home/News from House), this film can be likened to a coming-of-age novel of an architect-filmmaker. It tells the story of a dispossession, from the vantage point of the house’s former owner, a Palestinian forced to leave in 1948. The current circumstances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are seen in the builders’ living and working conditions in 1980.
For Gitai, the present is inscribed in a time period and also in a historical stratum. The blending of these two approaches, which constitutes the principal strength of his documentary films, is also seen in his fiction works, such as Esther (1985), Kippur (2000) and Carmel (2009). Long sequence shots, which express a kind of continuity, are inserted into a montage of fragmentary and at times dissonant shots. The story, with its biographical or autobiographical content, encompasses and overcomes the documentary/fiction distinction upon which cinematic discourse still rests and which Gitai takes apart.
House illustrates that the dramatic processes of documentary film are analogous to the constructive methods of an architect. The construction of the film responds to the transformation of the house. The quarry from which the Palestinian workers extract the stone is an allegorical place. The power relations characteristic of the world of labour are related to a situation of political domination, based on the appropriation of territory.
Produced in Israel by a television network, the film has never been distributed in that country. But Field Diary, shot in March of 1982, just before the war with Lebanon, did lead to a climate of hate, as Gitai described it, that prompted him to take exile in France. Pineapple and Bangkok-Bahrain were made from this position of distance. The two films use investigative reporting practices and constitute a diptych on the networks of exploitation and servitude at the international level.
The central question explored by Gitai’s work, and found throughout the nine features and the short film that make up this series, is the construction/violence relation, particularly vivid for an architect-filmmaker in a country in which territorial conflicts are always accompanied by acts of construction and destruction. Constructions appear as the response to or the prolongation of violence. Like violence, construction is material, physical yet it also has a symbolic dimension. That is why his films are an ensemble of elements that take on meaning in the course of a story, inside a film or from one film to another. Gitai is an architect-filmmaker, but he is also a biographer-filmmaker. His life is one of the biographies that make up an open-ended opus, an opus under construction.