tue 01/12/2020

DVD/Blu-ray: Ghost Hunting | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: Ghost Hunting

DVD/Blu-ray: Ghost Hunting

Striking, sobering semi-documentary

'What's inside you, you beat before it beats you.' The cast of 'Ghost Hunting' confront the past

Raed Andoni’s semi-documentary Ghost Hunting (Istiyad Ashbah) is nominally "about" the Israeli treatment of Palestinian prisoners but is an effective, potent denunciation of human rights abuses across the modern world

Raed Andoni’s semi-documentary Ghost Hunting (Istiyad Ashbah) is nominally "about" the Israeli treatment of Palestinian prisoners but is an effective, potent denunciation of human rights abuses across the modern world. Andoni’s booklet introduction includes the sobering statistic that more than four in 10 Palestinian men are, at least once in their lives, arrested or investigated in Israeli prisons, some as young as 12. Andoni himself was held and tortured as a teenager at al-Moscobiya detention centre, and this 2017 semi-documentary is partially an attempt to exorcise his demons. As he puts it, “my personal quest is to rebuild al-Moscobiya and attempt to take control of my former submission.”

Andoni does this by recruiting a diverse group of al-Moscobiya prisoners via a newspaper advert. Together, they move into an anonymous concrete warehouse and help him physically reconstruct the institution from memory, their personal experiences prompting what we see on screen. They’re an engaging bunch, their numbers including actors, blacksmiths, construction workers and architects. One man confesses to not actually having been incarcerated but signs up purely because he’s interested. The men share and compare experiences, Andoni summoning up ghosts from the past through role play and discussion. You’re reminded of Mike Leigh, whose comments praising the film are quoted on the sleeve.

Ghost HuntingWe see the men re-enact scenes from their lives while the faux-prison takes shape around them. The results are predictably bleak, though Andoni’s cast are a strikingly articulate and engaging bunch. One man talks about the joys of bathing his baby son, another worrying that his fiancée might misread a particular scene he's filmed. The cell walls are clearly wooden, the handcuffs too shiny, but we get a chilling sense of the claustrophobic mundanities of prison life: endless pacing to and fro, dire food (jam and beans, anyone?) and trying to cadge cigarettes from warders. Andoni is confronted at various points and accused of control freakery, one man angrily asking him why he’s making the film at all. Frequent shots of Andoni having his makeup applied emphasise the artifice.

How much the experience helped all involved isn’t investigated, and we’re left wondering how the project affected the participants in the longer term. One asserts that “prison makes you creative,” and it’s pleasing to see the camaraderie develop between them. Second Run include a short but useful bonus interview with Andoni, outlining the film’s inception and discussing the process of “transforming jail experience into a work of art.” Image and sound are immaculate.

@GrahamRickson

One man angrily asks Andoni why he’s making the film at all

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