Alternatively optimistic about the possibilities for official recognition of an independent Palestinian nation and realistic about the political hurdles standing in the way of that goal, Dan Setton’s State 194 follows the efforts of politicians, grassroots activists, and lobbyists to achieve a two-state solution. As Salam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority at the time of the film’s shooting, works both sides of the aisle with his compromise-minded diplomacy, Palestinian activists both protest the Israeli occupation and attempt to broker a Fatah-Hamas compromise. But these efforts are continually stymied by the hardline opposition of Hamas, the intransigence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the continued building of illegal settlements by Israelis in the West Bank.
If recent documentaries on the “Palestinian Question” such as Tears of Gaza and 5 Broken Cameras aim to stoke outrage by showing the visceral effects of the occupation on people living in Gaza and the West Bank, then Setton’s doc aims for a less emotionally direct approach, but one given to bringing a wider understanding to the issues involved. The result is a film that’s more informative than its contemporaries, and admirably wide ranging in its focus on both the macro and micro levels of the statehood process, but one that often lacks their immediacy. From the outrage-stoking video of East Jerusalem Palestinians being ousted by settlers to the shocking bluntness of Netanyahu scoffing at the notion of returning to the 1967 borders while addressing the right-wing American Israel lobby AIPAC, Setton’s film certainly has its share of revelatory footage, but only in between long stretches of indifferently shot sequences of talking heads talking or young activists Facebooking.
Still, it’s no surprise that a film about the arduous process of achieving a political goal has its procedural lulls. In allowing us to see the wide range of activities that both promote and stymie the efforts at creating a Palestinian state, the film makes clear the complexities of a fraught and seemingly endless struggle. As such it stands as a valuable document for understanding an issue on which many American viewers are sorely underinformed. As a work of cinema, though, it too often feels like just one more aesthetically uninspired documentary that gives way in the end to a special round of pleading for its specific cause.