‘The Viewing Booth’ is a documentary into the effects of watching frontline videos and how it can affect a viewer’s perception of a given situation. Taking as it’s inspiration a letter once written to Virginia Woolf about “how we could stop war’”, her sage response was to ask how anyone could agree on who ‘we’ are.
Running with this conflict of objectivity, filmmaker Ra’anan Alexandrowicz invites seven Jewish American viewers into a viewing booth to watch a selection of forty videos made about life in the occupied West Bank. Twenty videos support the Israeli position and the others would show life from the Palestinian perspective. However, once his investigation starts, it quickly emerges there’s really only one candidate who fascinates: Maia Levy.
…an arresting, splintering of the truths we tell ourselves and the warm assurances we wrap them in.
A passionate supporter of the Israel, Maia sifts through the videos, some of which she’s already seen and some of which that are new to her and in doing so, her perceptions of a presented reality come into sharp relief.
Asked to describe out loud what she believes she’s seeing, her reactions are peppered with the language of distrust. In particular, when watching a night-time raid by masked Israeli soldiers, Maia picks apart the imagery of the video from a mostly polarised standpoint. Rationalising the soldiers’ intrusion through the filter of her own prejudices, it quickly becomes apparent that she can only articulate what she sees either in terms of either entertainment or a deliberate attempt to misinform. Shifting between the assumptions that the video has been staged or edited to present a sympathetic case, Maia’s reactions become a piercing mirror to her own deeply-held beliefs.
Tellingly towards the end of ‘The Viewing Booth’ Ra’anan Alexandrowicz invites Maia back to show her reactions to the previous videos. Will she intrinsically distrust her own reactions compared to her initial impressions? The answer is as chilling as it is opaque. In admitting that maybe all she’s looking for is “lies”, it becomes clear that she sees front-line videos as a test. Rather than dispelling her assumptions, they have instead become an ideological assault course for which her to insulate herself against.
Intentionally cold, and brutalist in its filming, ‘The Viewing Booth’ is an arresting, splintering of the truths we tell ourselves and the warm assurances we wrap them in and it needs to be seen to believed.