DIRECTED BY ADAM HOOTNICK
By Andrew Moreno
Posted: May 2008
With his provocative and insightful film,
director Adam Hootnick delivers a moving
and eye-opening film experience with
Unsettled. While the film continues to gain
movement and prove its noteworthy status,
audiences will soon not forget this film.
Hootnick delivers a fair and balanced
description of life with war, that transcends
race, religion and age, and speaks to the
heart. We look forward to Hootnick's next
film, and welcome him to our round table.
Unsettled is the story of a generation on the For Neta, 20, a religious filmmaker, the pullout plan sets off a desperate struggle to
front lines of a nation’s battle against itself.
When the Israeli government announces that
it will withdraw from the Gaza Strip, it means
lifeguards Lior, 21, and Meir, 27, will be
forced to leave their home – Gaza’s “Palm
Beach” forever. They and their surf posse
could be characters on MTV's The Real
World, but in the blink of an eye it becomes
obvious that the danger is all too real.
convince Israelis and the world that the withdrawal is a crime against God. Soldiers Yuval,
21, and Tamar, 20, must prepare for a mission against other Israelis, putting aside their
own emotions to face angry protestors and the prospect of attacks. Ye'ela, 21, joins a
cross-country tour in support of the withdrawal, even as she mourns a sister killed by
Palestinian terrorists. For young Israelis, the summer of 2005 will change the meaning –
and for some the very location – of home. Unsettled is a story about religion and
democracy, soldiers and civilians, and the kids on the front lines of a battle where there is
Moreno: Mr. Hootnick, what’s one thing about you as a filmmaker that will never
Hootnick: I will always try to tell stories that are true to life, and are tied to issues and
questions faced by real people. They may be documentaries, they may be narratives, but
hopefully any story I write or direct will feel like it really happened, or could have
happened. Unless someone offers me a lot of money to do something different.
Moreno: What was your childhood like?
Hootnick: I’m not sure if it’s over. The earlier part was pretty normal. I grew up in a suburb
of Syracuse, NY, and went to a public high school. I played sports and was in the school
play, was a good student and a little bit of a wise-ass, I guess. I went to overnight camp
every summer. I was never sure what I wanted to do when I grew up.
Moreno: After graduating from Harvard Law School, what led you to a film
Hootnick: I went to law school because I wanted to understand the rules we use to
organize society – at some level I figured our laws represent the way we decide we’re
going to treat one another, so that was a good background to get if I wanted to try to
make the world better somehow. But I was never sure whether I wanted to be a practicing
By the time I finished law school I had decided that I wanted to work on issues that
impacted people’s lives through storytelling, or at least give it a try before I took a job that
actually paid a decent salary. But even then it took a while before I ended up in
independent film. I think it was during my time working at MTV – talking to Americans in
their twenties who were already war veterans, young people in India trying to rebuild after
a tsunami, etc., that I realized how much I loved this process of combining ideas, stories,
images, and music, and that I wanted to try a feature-length film if I found the right story.
Moreno: Where did the concept of Unsettled come from?
Hootnick: This just seemed like the right story. I wondered what it would be like if the US
Army was sent to clear out a county of Texas to turn the land over to Mexico. Even without
all the religious and geopolitical overtones present in the Middle East, what would it be
like to be a soldier sent on a mission to take people from your own country out of their
There was also a deeper level involving issues of faith, religion, and democracy, and the
role these play the era of the “War on Terror.” Israel, like many countries, faces big
questions about how to reconcile competing worldviews within its population, and how to
approach situations where a minority believes in the absolute certainty of their positions
based on theology, regardless of decisions enacted by a democratic process. It was
important to me to witness the outcome of this particular conflict, because I think in one
way or another it will be played out in a number of contexts, around the world. Lots of
societies will have to look at how they are part of a problem, instead of thinking only about
how they are going to deal with an “enemy.” And I think that the way the Middle East
conflict (as well as many other conflicts) is dealt with in much of the media simplifies things
into black and white, as though there are only two sides. For me, the more interesting
stories, and the more important ones, exist in the gray area – the conflicts among people
who – at least from a distance - are all assumed to be on the same “side.” I guess that’s
part of why I went with the tag line “there is no enemy.”
Moreno: Did you have any reservations about your film?
Hootnick: I had a number of reservations. Personally, I worried about this career path and
whether it made any sense, given the economic realities of independent filmmaking, etc.,
and what would happen if the film didn’t pan out. I still worry about that sometimes. I had
some concerns for my safety, though I was comfortable with the level of risk I was taking
relative to the importance of this story for me.
Creatively, I was concerned about whether I could tell a balanced story when the
emotional weight of many of the events I would witness would seem to lean toward
engendering sympathy for the displaced settlers, while I might not witness as many
moments that illustrated the urgency and emotional force behind the argument in favor of
withdrawal from Gaza. I was concerned about whether a film would be perceived as fair if
it didn’t include Palestinian characters, given that Palestinians in Gaza are suffering as
much as they are. But in the end I feel very comfortable with the decisions I made, and
with the final product.
Moreno: What, at its core, is your film really about?
Hootnick: I think it’s really about dispute resolution, and the possibility of people solving
problems without killing each other. And questions about whether and how religion is
compatible with democracy.
Moreno: How do you emotionally handle your work?
Hootnick: I am usually carried through the intense moments by adrenaline – I’ve already
made the decision that I’m going to put myself in this situation, I’m going to invade
someone’s life with a camera, so now my job is to make sure that I can see or hear what’s
happening, and I’ll make the decision later as to whether or not to put it out for other
people to see. So often the hardest decisions are before I start shooting, and when I’m
editing. I guess I’m always guided by trying to be honest, trying to be fair.
Moreno: What does, “If it bleeds, it leads” mean?
Hootnick: It means that on most newscasts and newspaper front pages, the goriest, most
shocking, and most sensational images, ideas, or statements will be the ones that get the
top billing and the most airtime. It’s how the media gets us to buy newspapers and
prevents us from changing the channel.
Moreno: In what ways are the youth of America similar to those in your film? In
what ways are they different?
Hootnick: There are a lot of different kinds of youths in my film, and in America, so I’m
generalizing a little bit, but overall they are similar in that they like hanging out with their
friends and having a good time. They like music, they like to goof around, and they like to
take the family car so they can get out of the house.
The Israeli youths are different in that most of them were drafted into the army at age 18,
which doesn’t happen here anymore. War, or the possibility of fighting in a war, is a real
possibility for almost all of them, at any given time. And as a result, political decisions are
thought of as much more life and death issues, and six-year-old kids are talking about the
Moreno: In what ways is music incorporated into your film?
Hootnick: The music is like a seventh character, in a way. I wanted to use a lot of Israeli
pop, rock, funk, and hip hop, because in a way it might communicate to young American
viewers how much we overlap with other cultures. The hip hop and rock anthems are
approachable to viewers who might never have heard a Middle Eastern sound, but can
dig something that’s a little bit foreign. And as soon as I heard the lyrics to Matisyahu’s
“Youth” – I knew that song had to be in this film. Fortunately, he agreed.
As a side note, Hadag Nachash, a great Israeli hip hop/funk band that has a couple of
songs in the film, is touring in North America this week. I highly recommend that people try
to catch a show or check them out on iTunes…
Moreno: How were you able to get film access?
Hootnick: On the army side there was a bureaucratic process. I started out by calling the
Israeli Consulate in New York, then worked my way through the Foreign Ministry, then the
Government Press Office, then the Military Press Office, then the unit commanders of the
soldiers I was following. Among the settlers, I had to meet community leaders and family
leaders. I explained to everyone that I was trying to make a film where they could speak
for themselves, and that it was important that the outside world know who they were.
Ultimately the most important factor in getting access to the moments that make the film
was having the trust of the people I was filming. Without that you can have all the
permissions and ID badges in the world, but people won’t open up to you. I was lucky that
so many did, and felt that I had a big responsibility as a result.
Moreno: Do you still keep in contact with the characters from your film?
Hootnick: Yes, I’m in touch with all of them to varying degrees. Five of the six were able to
come to the US to be in Park City when the film premiered last January at the Slamdance
Moreno: What has been the general reaction from audience members?
Hootnick: There has been very positive reaction, from a diverse audience, which has
been extremely rewarding for me. Even though the film is set in Gaza and Israel, among
Jews, I always believed that this was not just a Jewish story, not just an Israeli story, and
not even just a Middle East story. It’s a story about conflict resolution, and about the fact
that human situations are rarely black and white. This is a story about a group of people
who are all supposed to be on the same side, but it’s not that simple. It’s a story about
people finding ways to not kill each other. So I have not been surprised to find that people
from a lot of backgrounds – a former Pakistani ambassador, rabbis, professional
negotiators, the Egyptian guy who approached me after a screening to give me a hug –
believe this is a story that can have an impact.
Moreno: In the film’s trailer there is a quote that reads, “Can one generation
change history?” What do you think?
For more information on Unsettled, please visit http://www.unsettledmovie.com/
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