Susan Sontag’s Mesmerizing Documentary
(Promised Lands screens through Wednesday February 10th at Anthology Film Archives in New York City. Visit distributor The Film Desk’s official website to learn more. Monday February 8th at 7pm the artist Paul Chan will introduce the screening. He has also designed, on the occasion of this release, a new screen print in a numbered edition of 100, with all proceeds going to support The Film Desk. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and pricing.)
Watching Susan Sontag’s Promised Lands today is a mesmerizing experience. Made in 1974, Promised Lands is Sontag’s lone documentary out of just four directorial efforts. Shot in Israel with a bare bones crew as the 1973 Yom Kippur War was drawing to a close and banned by Israeli censors upon its initial release, this is certainly not a work that holds your hand every step of the way. Eschewing didacticism or any specific point of view, Sontag loosely structures her film around two Israeli intellectuals with opposing viewpoints, both of them expounding upon Israeli society at that moment in time. Haunting images compliment this dialogue: soldiers and tanks rolling through the desert, visitors at the Wailing Wall, a wax museum showcasing key moments in Israeli history and a brutal psychological experiment at a hospital, just to name a few. The sound design is another formal quality worth noting. You could close your eyes and just take in an array of music, voices, prayer, and other sounds floating in and out of the landscape. But then you would be missing the singular beauty of one of the more striking films shot in a war torn country that I’ve ever seen.
— Paul Lovelace