Screenshot from 'The Wanted 18', 2014, directed by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan. Image courtesy http://www.wanted18.com/
Screenshot from ‘The Wanted 18’, 2014, directed by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan. Image courtesy http://www.wanted18.com/

“The Wanted 18” is one of the features in the Human Rights Watch film festival in London from 18-27 March 2015. This 75-minute documentary, comprised of live action and claymation, directed by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan, is a story about how a small herd of cows in Beit Sahour (Bethlehem) joined the 1st Intifada in the late 1980s.

When all you’ve got is ‘sumud’* and a sense of humour

The Wanted 18“, a new documentary from Palestinian film maker Amer Shomali, was recently screened as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival this March 2015 in London. Part caper, part comedy, and completely ridiculous in places, it’s a true story about how the citizens of Beit Sahour purchased 18 milkers from a nearby kibbutz to form a diary cooperative that would provide a food staple for their community…

Screenshot from 'The Wanted 18', 2014, directed by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan. Image courtesy http://www.wanted18.com/
Screenshot from ‘The Wanted 18’, 2014, directed by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan. Image courtesy http://www.wanted18.com/

and by doing so, these cows became an important beginning chapter in the 1st Intifada [Palestinian uprising/resistance against the occupation].

Screenshot from 'The Wanted 18', 2014, directed by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan. Image courtesy http://www.wanted18.com/
Screenshot from ‘The Wanted 18’, 2014, directed by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan. Image courtesy http://www.wanted18.com/

The story is told in a unique blend of claymation animation, drawings, and live interviews with Beit Sahour’s citizens who had a part in the venture – none of whom had any experience in dairy farming… or espionage, for that matter. But they learnt what they needed to know (how to milk a cow was the first challenge), did what they had to do to keep their herd (sometimes hiding them in shop cellars) and not least of which, devised a system to distribute the milk under the cover of darkness (which usually entailed people on the look-out for army jeeps, and others who were fast runners to drop the jugs in doorways).

Screenshot from 'The Wanted 18', 2014, directed by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan. Image courtesy http://www.wanted18.com/
Screenshot from ‘The Wanted 18’, 2014, directed by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan. Image courtesy http://www.wanted18.com/

Following the screening on 23 March 2015 at Curzon in Soho, Shomali was on hand to talk about his project and the role cultural output such as art and film can play in resistance, human rights, as well as entertainment.  Shomali’s original vision for “The Wanted 18“, he said, was to make it entirely claymation – but soon realised that viewers might feel the story was more fiction than fact, especially with such outrageous claims that included:  for several years, this farm was kept under surveillance by the Israeli army, or another testimony that this same army threatened to round up and kill a dozen and a half heifers because, the soldiers insisted,

cows are a threat to the national security of Israel.

Screenshot from 'The Wanted 18', 2014, directed by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan. Image courtesy http://www.wanted18.com/ and TIFF.
Screenshot from ‘The Wanted 18’, 2014, directed by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan. Image courtesy http://www.wanted18.com/ and TIFF.

Boggles the mind, I know, and one might be thinking, “But… why would the Israeli army care, they’re just cows…?” It’s a true story nonetheless that went on for about five years, and one which needs to be told if only to serve as a testimony to the continuing impact of Israeli occupation on Palestinian people.

Anyway, I won’t spoil the ending so I’ll close with a heart-felt recommendation to see this film when it next comes to your city. “The Wanted 18” shines a spotlight on one of the more bizarre episodes in the history of Israel and Palestine, and besides that, is a piece of excellent story-telling.

*’sumud‘ is the Palestinian word for ‘steadfast perseverance’

More links and information about ‘The Wanted 18’

Amer Shomali, film maker and director of 'The Wanted 18'. Image courtesy http://www.wanted18.com/
Amer Shomali, film maker and director of ‘The Wanted 18’. Image courtesy http://www.wanted18.com/

Reviews of “The Wanted 18”

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