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The Viewing Booth - Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s thought experiment

Thursday 28 January 2021, by Abla Kandalaft

In a lab-like location, Maia Levy, a young Jewish American woman, watches videos portraying life in the occupied West Bank, while verbalizing her thoughts and feelings in real time.

Director Alexandrowicz once again explores and denounces the injustices faced by Palestinians living under occupation this time in a clever experimental process whereby he aims to capture the viewer’s emotional and verbal responses to a series of videos - many of them shot by Jerusalem-based human rights NGO Btselem- that expose acts of violence, humiliation and other injustices Palestinians face on a daily basis. His aim is to try and understand the dynamics at play between non-fiction images and the way they are received by their viewers. Do we all see the same thing? How much of our own beliefs and prejudices to we bring to the experience? How much do these skew what we are witnessing and how we process it? Ultimately, how much can documentary film affect the viewer’s view of the world and drive them to act?

The documentary centres on Maia who is by all intent an keen supporter of Israel and who volunteers to watch these videos, which trigger all sorts of conflicting responses and emotions as her views are challenged and her beliefs are put under the spotlight.

In his director’s statement, Alexandrowicz writes "The introspective nature of The Viewing Booth determined its unconventional form and structure – one that often evokes the idea of a mirror, or a hall of mirrors. As the work on the film progressed, I realized that it is not only Maia and myself, who are facing our own reflections through this film."

It really brings home the reasons why horrific, explicit images of say, the bombing of Gaza don’t automatically lead to unequivocal revulsion. As you watch these images, you think ’surely, surely, nobody could justify this. There is no world in which this isn’t indiscriminate, unjustified killing/humiliation/destruction.’ And yet that’s under-estimating just how much one’s internalised view of the world around them shapes the way they interpret these images. Post-modernism, digital manipulation and the filter of social media have all added extra layers of complexity to what an image conveys and how it is interpreted. The repercussions are all-encompassing. The Viewing Booth intelligently exposes the limits of documentaries and news footage in terms of relaying the reality on the ground.

The film has enjoyed a number of screenings as part of events and festivals, more recently through the ICA, but the simplest way to watch it is probably on its official website here!

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