The Wanted 18 is a story bookended by men. The incongruous tale of how 18 cows came to symbolize the civil resistance of the town of Beit Sahour in the West Bank in 1987 begins with teacher Jalal Oumsieh and ends with the town’s men reflecting on what they were able to accomplish with such a simple act.
But the feature-length documentary by Palestinian artist Amer Shomali and Canadian director Paul Cowan is primarily concerned with women—from the stop-motion cows brought to black and white life with their own voices to the stories of Virginia Saad, Samira Shomali and Siham Taweel who, while not participating in the bigger protests and rock-throwing, emerge as the backbone of the movement. Saad especially comes across as a compelling witness whose defiant use of logic forms the basis of the most direct confrontation between the First Palestinian Intifada and the Israeli government over the farm animals.
The first few minutes of the documentary, which shift between stop-motion and animation by Shomali and live-action—including narration and interviews—feel jarring, but director and writer Cowan establishes a rhythm soon enough. The story from the cows’ perspective adds levity to the resistance even as the cows undergo a symbolic shift in perspective. And Shomali’s animation, inspired by modern graphic novels, soon finds its place as it comes to signal the passage of time.
But while it seems like a lot to play with at the beginning, the ultimate result is a documentary that feels as much like a film as a series of interviews about an historical event. And while Cowan pulls in threads like Samira Shomali’s wanted son and the more severe outcomes of the resistance, the story never loses its focus on the cows and how the small act of creating an agricultural co-operative affected the lives of the residents of Beit Sahour—so much so that the cows become “a national threat to the security of the State of Israel.”
With the most recent outbreak of fighting looming over this re-telling of the First Intifada, it’s fascinating to watch the interviews with the Israeli military governor at the time who can’t seem to help being impressed with how the town’s simple acts of co-operation and unity created so many problems, or as the documentary puts it, the “10,000 people who gave Israel a headache.” It’s not a big or awe-inspiring claim and the voices of The Wanted 18 are fully aware of how little long-term effect their efforts in Beit Sahour had, but the documentary remains an inspiring and occasionally funny glimpse into a side of revolution that rarely makes the news.
The Wanted 18 screened Saturday, Sept. 6. It also screens Tuesday, Sept. 9 at The Bloor Hot Doc Cinema and Friday, Sept. 12 at Scotiabank Theatre.