MRR Review: "State 194"

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A look deep inside Israel and Palestine at the men and women trying to seize a historic opportunity to end the conflict and make implementing the two-state solution a reality.
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MRR Review: "State 194"

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, smoking, and brief language)
Length: 98 minutes
Release date: May 17, 2013
Directed by: Dan Setton
Genre: Documentary

Producers of modern political documentaries often ask the viewer to invest emotionally in the film, accepting the film's premise and riding along on a typically emotional journey that explores the flim's plot. Director Dan Setton pulls viewers in from the very beginning of "State 194" by presenting a largely idealistic look at Salam Fayyad's efforts in 2009 to achieve statehood for the Palestine.

Fayyad, the Prime Minister at the time, was then attempting to help the Palestinians build the infrastructure needed to support a modern state. This included not only economic expansion of the region, but also an establishment of modern social services throughout. This plan followed the path taken by the nation's neighbor, Israel. To show Fayyad's efforts as clearly as possible, Setton follows Fayyad himself as he moves through several West Bank cities. The film was created to show a nonviolent approach to statehood, so the images shown are nonviolent in nature. They also aren't limited to Fayyad himself.

"State 194" is an attempt to present the complicated and highly charged topic of Palestinian statehood in well under two hours' time. To do so, Setton expands from Fayyad to other movers and shakers throughout the region, using clips and interviews to give the viewer a basic understanding of the situation. Those shown run a wide range of power players, including national leaders such as Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian National Authority President, bloggers Madj Biltaji and Mahmoud El Mandawi, and political activists Yitzhak Frankenthal and Nabeel Sweety from The Parent Circle-Families Forum. The combination of these clips with the imagery of Fayyad discussing his path to statehood manages to leave the viewer feeling as though the plan put forth by Fayyad has a simplicity that's bound to work.

Setton takes a passionate approach toward the subject matter, but the information presented is a bit too heavy to evoke quite the level of emotion he appears to be trying for. "State 194" tries to cover over sixty-five years of history, beginning with Israel becoming a state. The information conveyed during the documentary is informative first and emotionally engaging second. This leads the viewer to watching in a state of intense immersion, followed quickly by detachment when the flow of facts grows too great. The various experts providing background information leads to this data deluge, with a presentation that's often contradictory as each presents his or her own opinion of the primary issue of statehood and how to proceed toward it.

Fayyad is shown to be a dreamer at times, a leader who truly cares for his people who's faced with resistance not only from other nations attempting to deny Palestine a seat at the UN table, but also from his own citizens. However, multiple awe-inspiring scenes are presented in the film that help to keep the mood of the documentary upbeat, with cheering villagers often welcoming Fayyad's arrival into the cities scattered along the West Bank. The film zeros in on this popularity in an effort to show Fayyad's dreams are welcomed by those most affected by them.

Visually, the documentary is beautiful in places, showing a Palestine that's rarely seen to outsiders. The nation is shown as a poor one that's determined to keep growing despite its political and economic issues. The people interviewed share a desire to improve the nation, though their approaches can differ radically on how to do so. The plot is kept moving along quickly and interestingly, with smooth transitions between the Fayyad imagery and that of the various archival clips and accompanying interviews.

"State 194" is at its core a representation of a short moment in time. It has no true ending in the sense of a conclusion to Fayyad's efforts. Followers of the politics of the region will note Fayyad failed in his attempts and resigned in 2013. As the film ends, those unfamiliar with the issue of statehood are left with an increase in their knowledge of the issue. They're also left with a view of Fayyad that's highly political in nature, but narrow by design. Little is mentioned about Fayyad outside of the political arena, and the subject is strictly kept focused on his efforts to improve the nation's infrastructure.

As the film's final act, the ending has little to do with Fayyad himself. The end covers the efforts of Mahmoud Abbas as he attempts to convince the General Assembly of the UN to recognize Palestine as the 194th member state. The attempt fails, and shortly thereafter Fayyad resigns.

Rating: 3 out of 5