The PBS documentary series P.O.V. presents its strongest outing of the current series to date with a showing of 9 Star Hotel, a film by Israeli filmmaker Ido Haar.
It’s about construction workers who toil to build some of the new office buildings and skyscrapers in Israel, but these particular workers aren’t Israelis. They’re Palestinians – young men, and some boys, hired as illegal laborers during the day, and living no less illegally at night. On the border between Israel and the West Bank, they work shifts in Modi’in, then retreat to the surrounding hills at night to cook outdoors, sleep in makeshift cardboard dorm-like shacks (the facetiously nicknamed “9 Star Hotel” of the title), and talk to each other about their lives, fears, hopes and dreams.
Haar’s brilliance is in gaining their trust, and filming as they engage in the mundane of conversations and activities – cooking a meal outdoors from the most meager ingredients, using magazine pages to fuel their fire while commenting on the sexy pictures, and joking or bragging about girls back home.
The result is the humanizing of young men caught in a very dehumanizing situation and environment. By the time the police find their hillside lair, we know them well, and care about what happens to them. In any documentary set in this volatile, political hotbed, that’s an illuminating, and valuable, contribution.