Posted: 10/14/2011


Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace


by Joe Sanders

In select theaters October 14

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Back Door Channels is a documentary about the origins of the conflict in the Middle East told through a long series of interviews with prominent members of the Carter administration, as well as officials from the Israeli and Egyptian governments who worked with the Carter administration to try to broker peace in the region.

The most impressive element of this film is the amazing array of experts they manage to collect and interview throughout. Former President Jimmy Carter, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali are among the experts collected to discuss their role in the 1970s peace negotiations between Israel, Palestine, and Egypt. Unfortunately, the experts collected are almost too intelligent to make this film accessible to an audience who does not already know about these events. They all speak in such a way that conveys an assumed knowledge in their audience, and the filmmakers make no attempt to filter, or make their expertise accessible to the average viewer.

The one exception to this is an ingenious montage that opens the film and concisely sums up 4,000 years of religious and political conflict in the Middle East in about 4 minutes. Everything about this segment is engaging and works to draw in as large an audience as possible. It’s a great opening for the film, but definitely misleading considering the dense amount of information that is forced upon the audience for the subsequent 100 minutes.

On top of the film’s tendency to assume its audience is an expert on the political climate in the Middle East, Back Door Channels suffers from the arguably worse sin of refusing to maintain its focus. Around the time when the film digresses on a tangent about the cold war is about the point where the film’s lack of structure becomes the most noticeable. Another tangent about Jimmy Carter’s campaigns for Governor before his eventual rise to the White House feels a little closer to relevant, since Carter was at the epicenter of what the film discusses. However, it’s difficult to see why such a large section of the movie being dedicated to Carter’s biography is absolutely necessary here.

Overall, Back Door Channels appeals to a very small, already well-educated audience. It has very little ability to function as an informative piece, but instead could stir an interesting philosophical debate for those viewers who are already familiar with this subject matter, but for anyone ignorant of these 1970s negotiations, don’t be surprised if you walk away from this not even understanding what a Back Channel really is.

Joe Sanders is a playwright and college instructor in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has a Master’s degree in playwriting and a Bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches Thought and Writing.

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