Documentary – real embedded journalism

Last week I went to see Slingshot Hip Hop, a documentary on the Palestinian hip hop movement at the monthly documentary screenings in the Art House Cafe, Stokescroft. It has become an emotive vehicle for the younger generation in Palestine to express themselves in a peaceful but powerful way, a form of liberation from oppression through one of the few basic human rights they are free to exercise – freedom of voice.

It was a really inspiring and high-energy documentary, the music bringing lightness to a medium which can often drag heavily through a deeply-rooted issue. However this was weighted by the back-drop of bombed buildings, wastelands of debris and dereliction, colourless streets and random gun fire conveying a landscape void of opportunity and enterprise. As one of the musicians remarked, too many young growing up in Palestine today are bored and resort to drugs.

Briefly, the most striking things about the documentary were
# Arabic hip hop is really good – even without the subtitles to understand what it means I’d listen to it
# The number of checkpoints are absurd – Palestinians may have to queue up to 7 hours just to travel from one neighbouring city to the next, usually only a 15 minute drive.
# The fear of the Israeli’s – despite being heavily armed, policing and patrolling the walls and the settlements. One of the rappers was stopped on the street and hostilely ID’d because he was speaking his first language Arabic rather than Hebrew.

I came away very happy to have re-connected with an issue I used to be very active on, but equally frustrated at how the the prospects for young people growing up in Palestine have hardly progressed.

It also raised another particularly interesting question about the ineffectiveness of news today to initiate change and propose solutions to on-going problems. I feel it has become more like a drone that simply props up the ‘business as usual’, ‘this is reality-deal with it’ line.

This is were independent documentary as a form, over and above news, fills a gaping hole, since embedded investigative journalism and feature articles appear to be a dying breed. They should be given far more airtime, broadcasting licenses, than most of the stuff we chose to distract ourselves with today. Documentary is embedded investigative journalism at its most visually compelling, leaving a lasting impression on the mind which might, just might, be enough of a call to action.