Hamouda and his cousin Ismail are Palestinian Bedouins living in the town of Yatta. With few ways to make a decent living, they offer a unique taxi service, driving Palestinian workers across the Negev desert to a southern gap where Israel’s border wall hasn’t been finished. Or smuggling Palestinian workers, I should say, as this is technically extremely illegal. If caught, everyone in the car will go to jail. Both driver and passenger is risking his life to feed his family. Neither sees any alternative.
Documentary filmmakers Mohammed Abugeth and Daniel Carsenty spend eight years in the passenger seat, capturing these dangerous drives with a sense of urgency many will liken to a 1970s car chase, but for these men, the stakes are real. They drive stealthily, obscured by clouds of dust, they live suspiciously, paranoid that neighbours may be spies, they work reluctantly, carefully evading the military but always fearing getting caught; they survive precariously, living amid hostilities.
At the end of the day, these are just regular men, with homes and children and jobs they don’t like. Living under occupation has taken its toll, and Abugeth & Carsenty deftly capture what it’s like to exist under such difficult circumstances, to try to be a decent guy – a day who comes home to play with his kids, a neighbour who still waves hello, a brother still dutiful to his family. Life in Palestine is rough. Living and working in a pressure cooker changes you. Hamouda and Ismail won’t be the same men when this film closes.
Abugeth and Carsenty work well together, bringing a full and authentic picture of the human condition flailing under such conditions, yet persisting, irrepressible. The mere fact of their collaboration is a testament to what can be achieved. Abugeth is Palestinian and Carsenty is Israeli, and such a comprehensive documentary would have been impossible without their teamwork.
The Devil’s Drivers is an official TIFF2021 selection.