The Museum, directed by Ran Tal, is a surprisingly intimate and special documentary about the Israel Museum – its workers, visitors, exhibits, and its meaning as a national museum of memory, history, culture and art.
At the beginning of the film, a group of soldiers in an officer-training course are asked: why do we take you to this place? What can you learn from this museum that will be important for you to take with you as you become officers in the Israeli army? This question stays with the viewer as we watch the film.
We see the storerooms, the restorations, new exhibits, preparation of pieces for shipping. And we meet the guards, curators, designers, and restorers. There is the immigrant musician from Azerbijan who restores artwork. There is the rabbi of the museum who shockingly tells us that the museum has no meaning for him. On the other hand, there is the religious guard at the Shrine of the Book who talks about how he loves the nostalgia and the historical connection. And James Snyder talks about how meaningful it has been for him working at the helm of this institution.
There are personal stories told by visitors to the museum – a second generation Holocaust survivor, a woman who made Aliyah from Venice, a blind woman who comes to “see” art through the eyes of others. And there are issues discussed by the staff – how do you tell the story of a cruel and violent emperor when putting together an exhibit about Hadrian, who was greatly admired by other nations but hated by the Jews. In addition, a moral question is raised about whether a Jewish museum, within the current political context, can properly display Palestinian art and culture.
All of this put together presents us with a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at what is entailed in the running of the Israel Museum. The Museum (documentary, 72 minutes), is available from Ruth Films.