Kippur, 2000, Amos Gitai
Amos Gitai
Disengagement, 2007, Amos Gitai
Free Zone, 2005, Amos Gitai
Ana Arabia, 2013, Amos Gitai
Brand New Day, 1988, Amos Gitai

Amos Gitai
Attempts at Dialogue

May 2 to July 1, 2024

Amos Gitai is one of Israel's most respected filmmakers. His body of work, spanning six decades, is both a grand narrative and a critical analysis of his homeland. War, conflict, displacement, history, memory, and the human condition in general are core and recurring themes in Gitai's work.
A closer look, however, reveals a filmmaker whose work is far more complex and richer than this simple categorization suggests. Gitai's art is perhaps best described as an ongoing attempt at dialogue, a radically open-minded and open-ended structure that generates a fascinating variety of approaches and stories. Like most real-life dialogues, the cinema of Amos Gitai moves forward in a meandering and unpredictable way, usually ending abruptly without reaching a point of catharsis or resolution. And like the real-life practice of trying, the cinema of Amos Gitai often fails; and tries, and tries, and tries, and fails, and fails.
Gitai was born in Haifa, Israel in 1950, the son of Efratia Margalit, an intellectual and teacher born in Palestine in 1909 to parents who represented the first wave of socialist-secular Jewish immigration, and Munio Weinraub, a Galician-born architect trained at the Bauhaus who inspired his son to follow in his footsteps. After getting a degree in architecture, Gitai went to Berkeley, California to do his doctorate, finding a second home at the Pacific Film Archive, where renowned curator Tom Luddy introduced him to a number of international classics that left a deep impression on him, particularly the work of Jean-Luc Godard, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Erich von Stroheim, and Glauber Rocha. His time at Berkeley introduced him to the concept of avant-garde cinema and he became inspired by the idea of cinema as a tool of subversion. Yet, he still takes great pride in the biographical detail that his first professional passion was architecture, claiming that his primary mission as an artist is to build bridges.
Another biographical detail that left a deep impression on the young Amos Gitai was his involvement in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. As part of a rescue team, his helicopter was shot down by a missile ­­– an experience that has informed several of his works and plays a crucial role in his film Kippur (2000).
Gitai began a career as a documentary filmmaker. From the outset, he confronted subjects that other artists of his generation chose to ignore and tackled issues that were considered taboo. Even as Gitai gradually embraced fiction filmmaking, he never abandoned his non-fiction roots or his penchant for experimentation. According to Gitai, a documentary filmmaker is an archaeologist whose role is to excavate a hidden reality, while a fiction filmmaker is an architect in charge of building a house.
The metaphor of documentary cinema as archaeological exploration is perfectly realized in Gitai's first feature-length documentary, House (1980), a film  about a tenement house in West Jerusalem that until 1948 belonged to a Palestinian doctor and, after it was confiscated by the government, was then owned by an Israeli professor who renovated it into a villa. For Gitai, the house acts as a metaphor for both the city of Jerusalem and Israel as a whole: Israelis, he says, "find the idea that Palestinians have the same attachment that they have to a place, a piece of land, extremely threatening, something that should not be shown to this gentle nation."
House was eventually censored by Israeli television, but that was only the beginning of Gitai's troubles with politics. An examination of the violence ravaging the Middle East and the history of the land of Israel is at the heart of his first feature film, Esther (1986), a retelling of the Old Testament's Book of Esther: a quintessentially Jewish parable about the struggle to preserve Jewish identity in a hostile environment. But whereas House revealed Gitai as a direct cinema-inspired observer with boundless curiosity and compassion, Esther operates on an entirely different level. What emerges is an ambitious, sprawling historical reconstruction, reminiscent of the cinemas of Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet, and Peter Watkins, with their clash of austerity, theatricality, and political passion.
Intense and often hostile domestic reactions to his films eventually led to Gitai's decade-long exile from Israel. Based in Paris, France, he created a series of fictional, even phantasmagorical films about displacement, using the multi-functional Jewish myth of the golem as a symbol of both endless despair and hope. The heavy symbolism of Gitai's "Golem Trilogy" – Birth of a Golem (1990), Golem, the Spirit of Exile (1991), and Golem, the Petrified Garden (1993) – points to another important aspect of his cinema, in which the almost forensic description of concrete places and people serves as a metaphor for a larger project: the quest for peaceful coexistence between different cultures. Each of Gitai's films can be experienced on its own terms, and yet each one fits into a larger and rapidly evolving story that is inextricably linked to the history of Israel and the region.
The speed and urgency with which this history unfolds demands attention, vigor, and commitment. This may explain how Amos Gitai has been so prolific. Many of the micro-histories he portrays bleed into each other, becoming series (often trilogies). Field Diary (1982) is the third film in a trilogy following House (1980) and Wadi (1981), but at the same time the latter two films are the starting points for a new trilogy – House (1980), A House in Jerusalem (1998), News from Home (2005) along with Wadi (1981), Wadi, Ten Years After (1991), Wadi Grand Canyon 2001 (2001). In each of these trilogies, Gitai says he "wanted to propose the way in which the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians can be seen through limited, microcosmic elements [...] The idea was to suggest that the conflict really exists on all these levels."
Amos Gitai's cinema does not shy away from the violence that poisons the history and the present of his homeland. But it refuses to take part in the escalation of sectarian violence, hatred, and division. At times a fierce critic of Israeli politics as well as of the romanticization of anti-Jewish terrorist violence as a "liberation struggle," his work is best characterized as an ongoing attempt at dialogue: between social classes, between belief systems, between Arabs and Jews. "Israel," says Gitai, "has largely been shaped by the collective experience of a series of wars, creating an image that fosters a shared sense of the past while threatening to destabilize the present." His work, whether it depicts the "little people" on the margins of society or major historical figures and events, as in Rabin, The Last Day (2015), shows a way of coming to terms with the complexity of Israel as a utopian project plagued by violence, and dares us to imagine a better and more peaceful future.
In addition to filmmaking, Amos Gitai has been involved in various other artistic practices, including theater productions and installations. We are therefore delighted that this two-month retrospective coincides with the Burgtheater's production of Yitzhak Rabin: Chronicle of an Assassination, based on Gitai's 2015 film Rabin, the Last Day, the opening film of our retrospective. In times of escalating war and division, anti-Semitic violence and revisionism, Gitai's films offer a space to listen and reflect. They may not offer easy answers, but they propose questions that should concern us all. (Michael Loebenstein, Jurij Meden)
We are grateful to the Burgtheater for their support in bringing Amos Gitai to Vienna, where he will attend the opening of our retrospective on May 2, as well as other screenings (May 3 and 6).

Chronicle of a Murder – Yitzchak Rabin premiered in 2016 as a multimedia play as part of the Avignon International Festival and can be seen at the Burgtheater on May 4 and 5 directed by Amos Gitai.
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