|Directed by:||Eran Preis and K.M. Winikur||Rating:||TV-PG|
|Release Date:||2004||Running Time:||53 mins.|
|Language:||Hebrew & English (subtitles)||Genre:||Documentary|
Once considered Israel’s greatest social innovation, the kibbutz movement has suffered major setbacks in recent years – unable to sustain itself against capitalist pressure. In Bet Herut, filmmaker Eran Preis returns to one such socialist commune, the place of his childhood, to expose the movement’s failings, lamenting its dying idealistic dream – and how the kibbutz’s shortcomings led its founder to a tragic murder/suicide.
“The old and the good Bet Herut is gone,” a community leader at a town hall meeting declares, “we are now fighting to pay off the debts of that Bet Herut.”
Highly emotional, Bet Herut takes a long look at the ugly underbelly of idealism. The documentary blends Preis’s personal experiences in Bet Herut with a broad historical look at the farming community, established by a man named Nachman Ariel. Both Ariel and Preis held the community in high regard, only to be disappointed by it. Preis’s negative experiences drove him to America, while Ariel’s mistrust resulted in murdering his family and his own suicide. A remarkably balanced documentary, Bet Herut asks just how much can be expected of humanity.
In its beginning, Bet Herut embodied the idealism it championed. An archival film from its early days shows strong, able-bodied men happily working the fields in the warm sun. “Everybody was family here,” one commune member says, “you felt as if you were part of a good family.” Men and women came from all over the world to raise children in this Israeli revolution. They divided resources equally and were full of enthusiasm and hard work.
But the suntanned images of farmers smiling in their fields provides a stark contrast to the florescent lighting and bitterness the modern generation endures while sitting on metal folding chairs, discussing their massive debt. As time passed, financial hardships and a changing world tested the community. Guaranteed the same wage regardless of the work put forth, their work ethic slowly declined. Families began to complain that the monthly stipend they were given wasn’t enough to “finish the month,” so they started their own side projects to earn money.
Preis didn’t set out to make a pro-capitalist film, but in documenting the failings of the socialist system he can’t help but make that implication. When Preis asks one community leader about his thoughts on capitalism, the man points to the fact that America won both the First and Second World Wars, and is the world’s leading power. Instead of fighting against it, Israel must adapt. “It’s just too Goddamn bad” another commune member pines, recalling, “when people said socialism is against human nature, I used to say change human nature.” Shaking his head with a sad smile he continues, “now I say you can’t change human nature.”
Bet Herut offers an intimate, insider’s look at the commune. Preis looks inward and to the stories of his own brother -– who inherited the family farm and still lives on kibbutz — and his sister, who moved out but still lives close by, to expand on the documentary’s broad understanding of the past, present and future of Bet Herut. His family, along with everyone else who’s interviewed, know Preis and thus speak freely to the camera. Instead of editing themselves, they joke and feel comfortable expressing their unpopular beliefs.
And through it all, Preis is able to reveal the death and despair that shakes this community to its foundations.