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Film Review: 'It's Better to Jump'

Matt Hamilton |
October 2, 2013 | 10:42 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

From the beginning of “It’s Better to Jump” – an award-winning documentary that screened Tuesday in Hollywood – the viewer is brought to that point where the sea meets the land.

'It's Better to Jump' was screened as part of the Celebration of Palestinian Culture, which concludes on Sunday, Oct. 6.
'It's Better to Jump' was screened as part of the Celebration of Palestinian Culture, which concludes on Sunday, Oct. 6.

Waves are shown crashing along a coast - a meditation on the beauty and danger and sheer power of the tides.

But from that universal image of nature’s majesty (and its counterpart: human frailty), the film zeroes in on the very particular. Akka, or as it’s called of late, Acre, a little coastal town in northern Israel, or occupied Palestine.

It’s here where some 50,000 people live, people of all stripes: Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, Christians and Ba’hai.

And like most small cities that still retain some element of provinciality, the city is next on the chopping block, so to speak. Developers eye its vistas and aura of authenticity. Longtime residents feel threatened and under siege.

The feeling isn't new: Palestinians – as the film succinctly articulates – have seen their land segmented and their families and communities, displaced, since the middle of the twentieth century when the State of Israel was founded. Scores of families fled, many by force. Several thousand were killed. Refugees remain scattered across the region, and many live in camps operated by the United Nations just on the other side of the Jordan River.

It’s a chapter of Israel's history (and contemporary life) that is at odds with prevailing narratives, but the film’s aim is not to engage in debate, issue-by-issue or line-by-line.

The filmmaker's goal, rather, is evident in the lack of a narration. The story moves forward through a string of narratives by several of Akka’s residents, along with a few historians and experts.

And it’s in these disparate voices – young female rappers, an aged fisherman, a local tour guide, an Ivy League historian – that a portrait emerges of a town very much on the precipice, hemmed in on all sides by poor economic prospects, limited mobility, an unfriendly government…the list goes on.

The only way out? The sea.

It’s here where the film returns, numerous times, in striking, fluid sequences of young men and women jumping off the walls and into the Mediterranean. One after the other, flipping and falling and diving into the sea. 

As a viewer, it’s a visual and intellectual relief - calm and hypnotic after stretches of rich, compelling but challenging accounts. But it's a structure that puts you in Akka proper, finding in those leaps from the walls a sense of escape and encounter, a (brief) freedom. Indeed, it’s better to jump.

The film was directed and produced by a trio: husband and wife Patrick and Mouna Stewart, along with Gina Angelone. It’s rare to find a film that essentially hands the microphone over to its subjects, and lets them tell a story that seems so sharp and coherent. Such a feat proves the trio’s skill and diligence – and leaves a viewer wondering what other projects they have left to dive into.

“It’s Better to Jump” was screened as part of the Levantine Cultural Center’s A Celebration of Palestinian Culture, which continues through Sunday. For more information, visit http://celebratepalestine.org/

Contact staff reporter Matt Hamilton here, and follow him on Twitter here.



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