The Gatekeepers

In an unprecedented and candid series of interviews, six former heads of the Shin Bet — Israel's intelligence and security agency — speak about their role in Israel's decades-long counterterrorism campaign, discussing their controversial methods and whether the ends ultimately justify the means. (TIFF)


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  • ★★★★ review by Daniel Kibbe on Letterboxd

    Definitely one of the best documentaries I've seen. Relevant, poignant, riveting, and expertly-crafted. Not one to miss. I can't remember exactly what won the Oscar, but it probably should have been this.

  • ★★★½ review by Liam Pulles on Letterboxd

    (7/8 is "Very Good")

    The Gatekeepers approaches the government-insider-documentary format (if it can be called a format) in the same way The Fog of War does - namely to try and focus the wisdom of its subjects into select lessons.

    It's an approach that works extremely well, because no group is more capable of encapsulating Israeli defense than its defense heads.

    The second thing it does extremely well is to give a balanced view in the face of the ongoing Israeli-Palestine conflict. These individuals' jobs are to defend Israel - that means killing Arab terrorists principally, but also innocent Arab civilians in the crossfire. The filmmaker probes the morality of their actions justly - both from a larger perspective of human rights and a smaller perspective of domestic security.

    And the juggling of those two forces makes for an extremely interesting film.

  • ★★★★½ review by Jamie Sherwood on Letterboxd

    In Newcastle-Upon-Tyne there is a cinema called the Tyneside cinema, I hadn't been there for 3 years, but on my recent trip back I thought I would go check it out again as it is essentially my favourite cinema in the country. I had to be pretty specific with the times of the films so I wouldn't miss my train home, and the only film I could make is The Gatekeepers. On the one hand I realise that the film was Oscar nominated an has been garnering great reviews, on the other, did I really want to see a film about Israeli foreign policy from an Israeli standpoint? In the end I figured seeing it would be better than simply wandering around town on a Sunday and bought my ticket.

    I am damn well glad that I did as The Gatekeepers is one of the most eye opening documentaries about human behaviour I've seen in a long long while. The film managed the previously impossible task of interviewing every living previous head of the Israeli Secret Police about their practices, opinions and history. Not only have these men never been interviewed before, they've never been this frank or open about anything like this in public before.

    The film takes you on a brief history of the Israeli state and the conflict between Israel and Palestine and the numerous attempts at peace along the way. Whilst I knew the basics of the situation, the film filled in the blanks for me and in that alone was fascinating. Where the film really comes into its own though is in looking at what being at the helm of an army of soldiers will do to a person, being responsible for the deaths of hundreds, innocents in some cases, how does that affect a person?

    The film was surprisingly even handed in its approach to the conflict too, and whilst obviously it doesn't interview anyone from the Palestinian side of the conflict, the interviewer does play Devil's advocate at times to try and get a different perspective on matters. Though it must be said that the men he is interviewing aren't nearly as one sided as I thought they would be, and actually came across as fairly reasonable, well rounded individuals.

    All I want to say about this film is that you shouldn't be put off by what could be perceived from a limited knowledge of the film as pro-Israeli propaganda (Or pro Palestinian), or what could be seen as a dark and depressing look at a fairly contentious issue. It's not. This is a film with no agenda other than curiosity into what happened and what drove them to it. It's very interesting, and the use of photographs from the time mixed with animated sequences for the film works wonderfully. This is one of the must see documentaries of the year.

  • ★★★★½ review by panos75 on Letterboxd

    The story of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, as told by its former heads from 1967 through today.

    Engrossing documentary that sheds light into a previously largely unknown (and unseen) area of Middle East's turbulent history. The interviews are not only surprisingly candid, they are a real eye-opener for all those who prefer to see things in black and white when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    The director and his interviewees are not afraid to speak not only about the successes of Shin Bet but also their failures and their frustrations with both the Israeli and Palestinian political leadership and the justice system.

    The use of modern technology and previously classified documents in order to reenact some of the most important incidents helps immensely to understand the decision process through which these individuals went.

    This is one of those rare films where you just can't take your eyes off the screen despite the complete absence of pyrotechnics, emotional manipulation or any other Hollywood tricks.

    Hands down, one of the best documentaries ever.

  • ★★★★½ review by Henry on Letterboxd

    Owned this for a while but thankfully, BBC2 decided to force me into watching it by scheduling it on an evening where I wasn't busy. This is the sort of documentary that will enlighten you on the Israel approach to Gaza and how it deals with Hamas/Palestine. I can't claim to be massively well read on the subject so won't go into it but like all documentaries, if you support one side over the other, you'll probably a bias here.

    For me, it was just fascinating to hear the anecdotes and approaches to perceived terrorism by a secret service, in this case Shin Bet. The film has a simple approach - six heads of Shin Bet since 1968 to 2011 explain events, feelings and the backgrounds of why they acted in the way they did. Add in some extremely gorgeous computer generated visuals and you have a five star film. Brilliant.

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