There is an underlying theme of persistence in the award-winning documentary “Censored Tapes,” Mor Loushy’s groundbreaking film that opens in New York and Los Angeles this week and next.
It is a story of the revelations made by reserve soldiers following the brief and intense Six Day War, as processed by Loushy, a young Tel Avivian filmmaker who discovered the existence of the tapes by chance.
Loushy, a graduate of the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem, first heard about the tapes during a history class at Tel Aviv University, when she read about them in the book “The Seventh Day,” written by historian Avraham Shapira, who had worked on it with the novelist Amos Oz.
She was studying for a degree in history and was shocked to find out that not everyone had felt a sense of joy following the victories of the Six Day War.
“The book was like a punch in my stomach, I didn’t know those voices existed,” said Loushy, speaking from her Tel Aviv home. “Everyone knows about the euphoria and dancing, but my generation didn’t know about this book.”
In the days and weeks following the 1967 war that changed Israel’s future, Shapira and Oz, the renowned writer who was then a young literature teacher, headed to Kibbutz Geva in the north. They sat with seven soldiers, all war heroes, who told them in sometimes low, halting voices, about their concerns, fears and hesitations regarding the advances and decisions made during the war.
They spoke about the annexation of East Jerusalem from Jordan, about whether it was the right decision, if it should have been given back to Jordan in exchange for peace. Within several months, the two writers had hours of taped conversations with different reservists, all kibbutz members, and were ready to publish it is as an internal booklet of the Kibbutz Movement.
But the army ended up keeping and censoring seventy percent of the tapes, and Shapira and Oz published the rest. Some of the tapes were kept by Shapira, but most were deposited in Yad Tabenkin, the Kibbutz Movement’s research and documentation center.
Those tapes could form the core of a film, thought Loushy, who then spent months trying to locate Shapira. It turned out that a producer she had worked with lived in a kibbutz near Shapira’s kibbutz, and the producer’s mother knew Shapira.
She began calling him; he put her off for nearly seven months.
The historian and professor was polite but firm in his refusal.
“He’d tell me, ‘Call me next week,” recounted Loushy. “He told me he’d said no to dozens of reporters because it was just too personal. He felt responsible that people really opened their hearts — he was in charge of those tapes.”
One day, he told her to meet him at a lecture he was giving at Hebrew University.
Loushy showed up, eight months pregnant and with her mother in tow.
“When I introduced myself and he saw me and then my mother, he said, “Okay, I’ll invite you to my kibbutz,’” said Loushy.
By the end of that first meeting, Shapira had agreed to give Loushy the tapes.
“He let go of everything, signed so many release papers that you’d be shocked,” she said. “I’m so thankful that he believed in me. These voices, they’re not only the voices of the past but of the present and future and because its consequences are so relevant for today.”
The voices of the soldiers form the crux of the film, joined by the silent presence of the former soldiers, sitting and listening to their youthful voices, as well as other rare, archival material, forming one complete, painful recounting of the decisions made back then.
“I told Avraham that these voices must be exposed, especially today, we must go back to the war,” she said. “No one talked about the prices of the Six Day War.”
Shapira and Oz had needed the kibbutz reservists to speak their truths and cooperate, just as Loushy needed Shapira and Oz’s cooperation. And they did, an unusual effort for the two usually reticent writers.
Loushy said she and Shapira became friends over the three years that she worked on the film, spending many hours together in his kibbutz home.
Ditto for Oz, who “opened his door right away.”
“He said, ‘I’m so glad that someone convinced Avraham and so glad it’s going to come out,’” recounted Loushy.
Oz has long been an outspoken critic of Israel’s political decisions following the Six Day War, particularly with regard to the country’s settlements in the West Bank.
He was “very crucial” to the film as one of the main interviewees, said Loushy.
“His testimonies are so emotional and so smart and so moving and he initiated this idea with Avraham,” said Loushy. “It’s so much to understand that beneath all, the dancing you had to be sensitive to know that we had to deal with all this. It was a brave act to initiate these conversations.”
There was the question of how to include the people behind the testimonies. Loushy knew she didn’t want a film about veterans and their memories. “It’s not a nostalgic film about war,” she said.
“It’s not older people remembering, it’s something different,” she said, “but I did try to find a way to connect the past and the present,” by having the men who had given their testimonies be filmed, sitting and listening to their younger selves.
“When I saw their faces while listening, I knew it was right,” she said. “Their faces are telling the whole story so much better than any words they could say. For them, it was the first time they heard their younger voices. Most of the time they just remember what they said based on the book.”
Loushy thinks many were shocked by their honesty at the time.
“It’s important to understand that this generation didn’t talk so much,” she said. “It wasn’t a regular thing to talk about your emotions. They were very tough then and now, but it was a special window of time, a week, two weeks after the war. They were kind of like, ‘Wow, did I say those things? Was I so honest?’”
Now, three years after the making of the film, Loushy is at the end of her second pregnancy, having experienced an intensive year of screenings and festivals. The film won Best Documentary at the 2015 Ophir Awards, Israel’s version of the Academy Awards, and was chosen as an Official Selection at the Panorama Section of the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival and the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
Loushy didn’t expect the film to have had such an impact, but it’s the screenings and Q&A sessions that matter most to her.
“Every time I do it, people have so much to say because this is our life, this is our reality,” she said. “This film is personal for me and for every Israeli citizen. We live with this and in order to face our future, we have to understand our past.”
“Censored Voices” opens in New York on Friday, November 20, at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and in Los Angeles on November 27, at the Laemmle Royal in West LA, and at Town Center 5 in Encino.