Hot House (Shimon Dotan, 2006): Israel

Reviewed by Richard Feilden.  Viewed at the Santa Barbara Human Rights Festival.

Hot House, from director Shimon Dotan, offers its audience a glimpse inside the Israeli prisons which house captured members of Palestinian organizations such as Hamas and Fatah. We get interviews with men and women, prison officials, convicted killers and people running for office. Unfortunately the director wraps these compelling images within a directionless structure that left me bored.

The film focuses on the politicization of the ten thousand held in places such as Be’er Shiva Prison, offering a mix of hope and horror. Some prisoners talk of engaging the Israeli’s in dialogue when they finally emerge from their incarceration whilst others speak proudly of the horrors that they have visited on others and those that they would commit upon their release. The prisoners, now with time on their hands, talk of the opportunities that they have been presented with since their arrest, studying for degrees in areas such as political science. Where they thought only of violence towards their occupiers before, they speak of finding accord and offer the hope of peace in the future.

Yet for every moment of hope that the film maker offers us, there is a moment of stomach churning disgust. A young man, who will hopefully be cured of his twisted views by maturity, speaks of the pride he would have in raising children. He could think of nothing finer, he reveals to his interviewer with glee, than being able to personally strap explosives to the fruit of his loins and sending them off as tiny suicide bombers. More repugnant still (if only because this man’s words might be dismissed as pathetic, immature posturing) is the ex-television presenter who speaks with pride of being able to help a man who detonated himself within a crowded restaurant to achieve his dream of becoming a martyr for his beliefs. She has no regret, she says, that three children were killed in the blast. She smiles her made-for-TV smile as she reveals this; only the subtlest of cracks in her mask forming when she is told of the much higher number of infants that she actually condemned to death. No matter what their cause, no matter how they and their people have suffered, these are monsters and they condemn themselves with their own words.

The film also reveals the tight bonding and the organization by the incarcerated men and women, allowing them to plan and strategize in ways that were impossible outside of the prison walls. In a way, locking these men and women up has allowed their political organizations to flourish and their status as martyrs grants them influence within their organizations and the Palestinian population at large. When political candidates are arrested just before the recent election in which Hamas took control of the Palestinian government, the film asks whether these actions, along with pressure from the Israeli and US governments, actually handed Hamas the election by creating an atmosphere in which people felt compelled to vote for the people they were told not to vote for. Did America once again create the monster that plagues it?

Unfortunately film has no structure. It charts the year before the election with no sense of build up, nor does it seem to reveal much new after it has revealed the effectiveness of the structures within the prisons. The tidbits that it drops regarding the arrests of the activists come few and far between, surrounded by laughing men discussing the available TV channels and women painting murals on the walls outside of their cells. The pacing is completely flat and leaves the film feeling far, far longer than its 89 minute running time. The film squanders its moments and I cannot recommend it.

Many thanks to the organizers of the 3rd Santa Barbara Human Rights Film Festival for providing passes to their event.

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