WALLA WALLA -- In 2002 Lisa Gossels began a journey that would lead the film maker more than 5,000 miles to work on a documentary that would take eight years to complete -- and in some ways still continues to be completed -- as she documented the lives of six young women who struggled to remain friends while caught in the middle of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
"One of the key ideas that these girls taught me is that comparing suffering doesn't help ... and there are still dead bodies on each side." Gossels said in a phone interview Sunday.
"My So-Called Enemy" centers around six teenage girls with opposing views in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and begins when the girls take part in a relationship-building camp in New Jersey. Gossels said she knew even before filming that "My So-Called Enemy" would be far more than a documentary about a friendship camp.
"My idea was I didn't want to make another film about another peace camp. It is about what happens afterward," Gossels explained. What happened in the years to follow the girls' camp experience was one of the deadliest periods of the conflict.
Known as the Second Intifada, from 2002 to 2006 more than 5,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis died in bombings, retaliatory attacks and other violence centered around the disputes over the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
During this deadly era and in the years to follow, Gossels stayed in contact with the six girls known as Adi, Gal, Hanin, Inas, Rawan and Rezan. The filmmaker noted she did not reveal their full names or specific neighborhoods for fear they, too, would become the victims of retaliation.
For the next eight years, Gossels would return to Israel and the Palestinian territories a number of times to interview the six young women, and to document how their friendships survived and suffered.
"My film, at its core, is about the transformation power of knowing the other human being. It is about how creating relationships across borders is the first step toward reducing conflict," Gossels said.
Since releasing "My So-Called Enemy" in 2010, Gossels has received numerous awards and critical acclaim on her current film festival tour.
"Making a film about the Israel-Palestinian conflict that is balanced took me eight years to do ... which is a very long time for a documentary," Gossels said.
From the beginning of her documentary, Gossels captures the viewer with the antics and emotions that are typical of teenage girls: laughing, crying, dancing and excessive drama and hand movements. And were it not for their combative beliefs, accentuated by the shared memories of family and friends killed in the conflicts, these six girls would have seemed very typical.
But it is the continuing story of their friendships, as the girls become women, and it is their reluctance to give up on their relationships that leaves the viewers feeling that perhaps there is hope for peace.
For Gossels, focusing on young women makes sense.
"I think that when women have equality in their community, in their government, and equal access to education and financial opportunities, we know that those countries thrive," Gossels said.
"My So-Called Enemy" is Gossels' second documentary.
In the 1990s she teamed with filmmaker Dean Wetherell to create "The Children of Chabannes," released in 1999.
The Emmy Award-winning documentary centers around a small village in occupied France during World War II, where Jews and non-Jews fought to save the lives of 400 Jewish refugee children.
For Gossels, it was also chance a to visit Chabannes with her father, who was one of the 400 children saved.
It is the interviews with the surviving children and teachers that makes this documentary a must see, especially for those with an interest in Holocaust history.
And today and Tuesday, free showings of "My So-Called Enemy" and "The Children of Chabannes" will be presented at Whitman College, along with a special question-and-answer period with Gossels, and a multifaith discussion on Wednesday.
"I got to focus on the goodness of people people saving children in a very dark time," Gossels said about her first documentary. Then she noted she struggled for quite sometime to find a worthy second topic.
"When I was looking for my second film it ("The Children of Chabannes") was a hard act to follow. So for my second film I wanted to do a film about young people and conflict resolution," Gossels said.
And even though she officially finished the documentary in 2010, Gossels still keeps in touch with the six young women who refuse to not be friends.
"I am constantly in touch with these young women. And the people in this film have become my family," she said. Later she added, "I think film has the power of softening people's hearts. You know how meeting one person can change a person's life ... we get to know six of them. And the relationship we have in the 88 minutes that we watch this film could change people lives."
"The Children of Chabannes" will play today at 7 p.m. in Kimball Auditorium in the Hunter Conservatory.
"My So-Called Enemy" will play Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Kimball Auditorium.
The discussion will take Wednesday 4 p.m. in the lounge of Jewett Hall.
All three events are free and open to the public.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.