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The Gatekeepers

The film that should have won this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary, The Gatekeepers was openly inspired by Errol Morris’s The Fog of War and its efforts to clarify the history of a conflict (in that case the Vietnam War) through the testimony of someone who had been in a position to oversee much of the government’s conduct of it.

To examine the history of a conflict that continues to define his country, Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh went after and achieved a coup, persuading all six surviving heads of Shin Bet, Israel’s counterterrorism agency, to be interviewed on camera.

And speak they do, at length and with apparent comfort and clarity, about their job. Interviewed separately and edited to give a generally chronological portrait, they don’t always agree, but what they say is often surprising, for the actions they reveal as well as the regrets they share.

Chief among these is a sense that they as a group have failed, given that terrorism now not only surrounds their homeland but permeates it from within. In the 1990s, they recall, they have to spend an increasing portion of their time tracking right wing terrorists within Israel who work out of a rising sense that they are above the state’s laws.

They express enormous frustration with “Politicians [who] prefer binary options: yes or no, do it or don’t,” offering no guidelines but plenty of Sunday morning quarterbacking.

Old men often get a bum rap, but when they speak from experience they should be listened to. In the ending section of the film, three of them summarize what they learned in their years as spymasters:

“You can’t make peace using military means.”

“There is no alternative to talking.”

“We win every battle but we lose the war.”

Watch the trailer for The Gatekeepers

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