The riveting Oscar-nominated documentary “The Gatekeepers” features remarkably forthcoming interviews with the six surviving heads of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency. They openly discuss their battles with Arab guerillas and Jewish religious extremists (who plotted to bomb Jerusalem’s Muslim shrine The Dome of the Rock in the 1980s and assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995), and express fundamental disagreements with Israel’s political leadership. To a man they are self-critical about the morality and effectiveness of their careers. Dror Moreh, the film’s director, recently discussed the project.
Q: You began as a cinematographer, and your film has remarkable cinematic qualities. It’s quite a taut thriller in addition to being a history lesson. What inspired that approach to a nonfiction film?
A: Growing up in Tel Aviv, I went to movies for escapism. I saw them in an old cinema where you could see three movies for one ticket. Monster movies, Westerns, science fiction, those kinds of movies. I liked to run away to imaginary worlds.
Q: You moved to documentary rather than entertainment. Why?
A: In Israel, if you want to influence, if you are really worried and you want to create a change, you want people to hear what you have to say, I think documentaries are the best way to do that. It seems like this movie is hitting a chord about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and I’m really happy with that.
Q: What caused the six former security chiefs to step forward and appear in your film?
A: It has to do with where they think Israel is now. They felt that Israel is in a dangerous place after 45 years of occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This is why they are such powerful figures in my view. They don’t try to whitewash it. On the contrary, they are saying in spite of all the things we did to try to maintain the security of Israel, and the price that we paid for that, look where we are now.
Q: Where are you now?
A: There is no wise man behind the Prime Minister’s door looking out for us. For me and my kids and my family and the future of everybody who is dear to me in the state of Israel, there is definitely no one I trust with our safety. On the contrary, I don’t trust anybody.
Q: Your government has not embraced “The Gatekeepers.” Some see it as unfairly critical of Israel. Your response?
A: It is one of the most pro-Israeli films that has ever been done. I’m not criticizing Israel, I’m criticizing the current policy of the government of Israel. Those who do not talk with moderate Palestinians put Israel in graver danger than anybody else. When you hear [the Shin Bet chiefs] talk about the leaders, left and right, who didn’t really want peace — when you hear that from people who were in those rooms with the prime minister, not third or fourth hearsay — that opened my eyes and saddened me. Both sides have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.