Doc of the Day: The Price of Kings: Yasser Arafat Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: The Price of Kings: Yasser Arafat

Posted in Days of Docs by - April 24, 2012

 An overview of the reign of the controversial Palestinian leader.

Dir. Richard Symons, 2012, 81 min

DISCLOSURE ALERT: I watched and am reviewing this film at the request of Emma Norton, fellow doc-appreciator and WordPress blogger. She works for Spirit Level, the company that produced this film. I assure you this has no bearing on my opinion. And if you think me a shill, I assure you that I will let you know if anyone ever pays me to promote something, because that would mean I’d attained some level of recognition worth boasting about.

Some people will inevitably be upset by The Price of Kings: Yasser Arafat. It isn’t that the documentary takes a radical tack and endorses his ideology or actions, but that it refuses to outright condemn him. It’s only half a biography; the other half is a meditation on leadership, and no matter what you think of Arafat, you have to admit that he was a leader under significant duress for his entire career. The doc is the first in a Price of Kings series, dedicated to the theme of what it takes to have authority over others.

For all the sociopolitical illiterates out there, the doc also acts as a good primer on relations between Israel and Palestine. The Western perspective is usually skewed towards sympathy with Israel, but this film gives much more of the other point of view. We don’t so often hear about the troubles plaguing Palestinians, but it’s important to recognize their strife. It is, after all, the reason that a few of them resort to violence. It’s the terrorist/freedom fighter question all over again. The film remains neutral on this issue, as it does with all the over moral conundrums it addresses. That’s not a weakness, since it’s specifically designed to raise questions and provoke discussion.

The most intriguing parts of the movie come from the figures whom the filmmakers interview. Arafat’s wife, Suha, is talking openly about her relationship with him and her thoughts on his reign for the first time. She’s just one in a cavalcade of people who were all very close to the man, including his nephew, many of his cabinet officials, and some close friends.

The way they talk about Arafat acts as a reminder that he was, despite his demonization in some quarters and beatification in others, still a human being. Turning public figures into saints or boogeymen does no favors to societal and cultural communication, and it’s gratifying to see such movements of sanity.

Yasser Arafat is the kind of movie that’s perfect for school screenings. It’s informative but also challenging, and has the potential to spark a thousand good discussions. I don’t usually go for more educational or journalistic documentaries on this blog, but this was a nice change of pace. True, it’s not really aiming to be a “work of art,” but whether or not something is art doesn’t determine whether or not it’s good. And this movie is most certainly good.

This post was written by
Dan Schindel is a writer and editor. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
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