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Last year at the Traverse City Film Festival (organized by Michael Moore), most of the documentaries were, to no surprise, about the war in Iraq. This year, however, I was pleasantly surprised that there was a wide range of diversity in the documentary line-up. More importantly, I was pleased that the documentaries I saw did what I think documentaries are supposed to do: They educated me on issues I was not familiar with in an entertaining way, without throwing a lot of propaganda in my face.
It might be difficult to find some of these films in theaters if you don’t live in a major city, but catch them if you can, or save them in your queue over at Netflix for when they come out on DVD.

  • “A Slim Peace”: According to director Yael Luttwak, the universal language of peace just might be … weight loss. In an experiment to open the way to better communication, Luttwak brings together a group of women–some Israeli, some Palestinian, and some Jewish settlers living in the West Bank–to attend a series of Weight Watchers-style meetings. These women in most cases have never spoken to someone from the opposing side, but eventually they warm up to each other and begin to discuss their fears and concerns.
    While the movie is funny–as it shows that the excuses women make for cheating on their diets are the same in every culture–it is also sad because a year after the meetings end, the women did not keep in touch with each other, and their opinions about the future of peace in the Middle East really haven’t changed.
    This movie also did a great job of revealing to me just how much I do not know or understand about the complex history of the West Bank, and it was worth seeing the movie for that reason alone.
  • “9 Star Hotel”: This was the other documentary that focuses on Palestine, this time from the point-of-view of impoverished Palestinian youths who cross illegally into Israel every day to labor on the construction of lavish Israeli buildings, and then return to their deplorable conditions on the other side of the border at night.
    This movie holds both Israeli greed and Palestinian corruption accountability for the plight of these men, and once again, this documentary doesn’t hold out much hope for progress in Middle East relations. (However, the film won an award at the Jerusalem Film Festival, so does that mean something?)
    This documentary also resonates with a certain universality that these conditions are what happens in many countries with borders between the haves and have-nots.
  • “Please Vote For Me”: A hilarious and cautionary tale from China about politics, this film follows a group of Chinese third graders as they experiment with democracy by having an election for class monitor. In true American fashion, the students soon learn to lie, slander the opponent, and lobby for votes with lavish gifts and hollow promises.
    Some students eventually can’t stomach the election process, and it makes you wonder why we in America still do.
  • And if you’d like to read more about what films won awards at the Traverse City Film Festival, go here.

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