Aaron Davidman, “Wrestling Jerusalem” writer and actor, talks with Rich Moniak of Juneau People for Peace and Justice after a screening of the film, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Aaron Davidman, “Wrestling Jerusalem” writer and actor, talks with Rich Moniak of Juneau People for Peace and Justice after a screening of the film, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Review: ‘Wrestling Jerusalem’ admirably finds middle ground in the Middle East

Film visiting Juneau is a nuanced exploration of Israel-Palestine conflict

There’s a scene in the middle of “Wrestling Jerusalem” in which a character is advised to “look over your notes from Poli Sci 101.”

That’s sound advice for anyone interested in seeing the film adapted from a one-man show written and performed by Aaron Davidman, which will be screened Saturday at 4 p.m. and Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Gold Town Theater as part of a Jewish Film Festival.

In “Wrestling Jerusalem,” Davidman, who was on hand for a Q&A session after Thursday’s screening and will be again on Tuesday, portrays 17 different characters with separate stances on the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Saturday’s screening will also end with a discussion featuring Rabbi Jeff Dreifus and Saralyn Tabachnick.

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“Wrestling Jerusalem” was previously performed as stage show in Juneau, but Thursday marked the first time the movie had been shown in the capital city.

The film has innate drama given its subject matter, and Davidman gives a compulsively watchable performance as more than a dozen people, but to get the most out of the movie it helps to at least have memories from a world history or political science class. A fascination with Israel will go a long way, too.

There are multiple scenes that play out like an Israel-Palestine-focused version of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” with a frenzied list of leaders, wars, nations and circumstances that have led to bloodshed and occupation for decades.

That’s not to say people who don’t know the principal players in the Six-Day War should absolutely stay away. Anyone interested in considering the personal side of an issue often talked about in distant abstractions could find something to like.

The movie contains enough human stories and moments of levity to offer something for people with no interest in Middle Eastern conflicts, but “Wrestling Jerusalem” will almost certainly be best enjoyed by folks with some familiarity with the subject matter.

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Segments that are almost entirely discussions about the circumstances that led to the existence of Israel and scenes in which Davidman plays both sides of a heated debate about philosophic and humanitarian shortcomings of both sides might be a slog for anyone unfamiliar with the conflict.

“Wrestling Jerusalem’s” many characters are based on both research and people Davidman, an American Jew, encountered while traveling in both Israel and Palestine.

Davidman’s portrayal of disparate people with unique pasts, nuanced outlooks, distinct accents and different cadences is imminently watchable. He brings an obvious intensity and passion to the film and makes a good faith attempt to embody many different points of view

The film paints both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict — Israeli soldiers, Palestinian rock-throwers, an American rabbi, an 8-year-old girl — as humans first and players in a prolonged holy war second.

This approach may turn off some movie goers, who would prefer a more defined point of view, and a definite statement.

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While a valid criticism, identifying solutions to the conflict isn’t the point of the film.

As “Wrestling Jerusalem” states repeatedly, “it’s complicated,” and the film goes to great lengths to show the conflicts muddled humanity through its character studies.

Ultimately, emphasizing the people that have conflict and trauma baked into their lives was the project’s goal.

Davidman said during the Q&A after the screening interacting with people affected by the conflict immediately changes how you view things. It makes Israel-Palestine conflict more immediate than an abstract political discussion about a distant situation.

“It’s just different instantly,” Davidman said. “When you sit with people and you engage in normal people behavior together, it’s a different deal.”

That effect largely comes through in the film.


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com.


Aaron Davidman, “Wrestling Jerusalem” writer and actor, talks with Bridget Smith after a screening of the film, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Aaron Davidman, “Wrestling Jerusalem” writer and actor, talks with Bridget Smith after a screening of the film, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Aaron Davidman, writer and star of “Wrestling Jerusalem” speaks at the Gold Town Theater, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2019. The film is being shown in Juneau as part of a Jewish Film Festival. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Aaron Davidman, writer and star of “Wrestling Jerusalem” speaks at the Gold Town Theater, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2019. The film is being shown in Juneau as part of a Jewish Film Festival. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

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