If you were going to shoot your very first documentary, would you self-fund a trip to the Middle East? What about entering a militarised conflict zone and risk being confronted by guns, protests and interrogations from Israeli police?
Chantell Basiacik, together with crew members Alastair Wharton and Jack McAvoy, did. The final-year media arts and production and international studies student was the director and producer of Not My Place, a 22-minute documentary exploring the lives of Israeli and Palestinian youths living amid the ongoing Middle East conflict.
Basiacik says, “As a young Australian, who has never had an attack on her civil liberties, I went over there to try and make sense of the conflict from the point of view of fellow young people.
“I wanted to understand what their lives as young men and women were like in comparison to my own. After all, being young is a universal experience with changes, urges, hopes and dreams. But, how is that experience shaped for someone who has grown up under constant chaos? What do they foresee for their futures? How do they see themselves? That’s what we were trying to get at, as well as trying to comprehend the extent of the issue.”
Originally filmed as a linear documentary, Basiacik – with fellow students and collaborators Jonathan Andrew, Alexandria Burnie and Jemma Nicoll – adapted the film for the online medium after undertaking the communication subject Online Documentary.
The project integrated interactive mapping and social media tools with interview, biographies and historical information to create an online interactive media space that sheds light on the lives and thoughts of the youths embroiled in the machinations of the conflict.
It also won the team the 2013 UTS Golden Eye Award for Best Collaborative New Media Project. Now, the 22-minute linear version is in line for a nod of its own. Not My Place has been nominated as a finalist in the Best Tertiary Documentary category at this month’s ATOM Awards.
While Basiacik says the current acclaim is “a wonderful achievement” for her and her crew, it’s a far cry from the film’s development phase in 2010.
“The project arose out of political debates and discussions I had with various people in my life and from following the conflict over recent years, particularly after the atrocities of the Gaza War and Operation Cast Lead in early 2009,” says Basiacik.
“I had continually heard people say, ‘There shall never be peace in the Middle East’ and I wanted to know why. Why, in particular, was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so inextricably never-ending in the eyes of so many?”
After purchasing the equipment and pre-arranging several interviews through contacts she had cultivated in the region, Basiacik and her crew flew to Jordan in July 2011. From there, they crossed the border into Israel and began filming.
She describes the one-month process as “a fairly turbulent experience due to the nature of guerilla filmmaking”. One week into filming they were stopped at a Jerusalem military checkpoint, searched and taken to a local police station, where Basiacik was interrogated about her activity in the country. Weeks later, in the volatile city of Hebron, five soldiers pointed their guns at them after an interaction with an Israeli settler property.
However, it’s these experiences that have driven Basiacik, an avid film-lover since the age of five, towards the nitty-gritty of non-fiction documentary.
“Those interests have really flourished since making Not My Place. I enjoy delving into the diverse realities of interviewees. That’s definitely where I want to head now,” she says.