More than ever, moving images — body cameras that monitor police conduct, the video review of athletic event rulings — purport to capture the incontestable truth. But can the “evidence,” framed and reliant on human interpretation, truly force us to see eye to eye?
In “The Viewing Booth,” the filmmaker Ra’anan Alexandrowicz tests this hypothesis.
Filmed at Temple University in a dark studio that resembles both a confessional and a laboratory, the documentary considers one young woman’s reactions to videos of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Singled out from a broader swath of students, Maia Levy, a Jewish American supporter of Israel, peruses a selection of videos — mostly by the human rights watchdog group B’Tselem — that she questions aloud, skeptical as to their authenticity. In one video, soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces raid a Palestinian family’s home in the middle of the night, awakening and interrogating several children. Levy, whom we observe voicing her objections in unforgiving close-up from the perspective of a computer camera, is convinced that the video is manipulating us to feel empathy for the family. Alexandrowicz watches the shared screen in an adjoining room, struck by Levy’s incredulity.
Six months later, Levy is invited back to the studio to review the footage of her responses, effectively replaying bits from the documentary’s first half with commentary from Levy and Alexandrowicz. In short: Images are not enough to challenge one’s beliefs.
Though moderately compelling to bear witness to one individual’s objections in real time, “The Viewing Booth” touches on gloomy truths about spectatorship in the digital era that might have felt novel a decade ago. Inundated as we are by traumatizing images and indiscriminate claims of “fake news,” it should come as no surprise that our ideological bubbles are actually quite difficult to burst.
The Viewing Booth
Not rated. In English, Arabic and Hebrew, with subtitles. In theaters.
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