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#HotDocs21 Review: My Tree

April 29, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2021 Hot Docs Festival is running virtually from April 29th to May 9th, all films are available to stream for audiences across Canada

In 1975, filmmaker Jason Sherman was given a certificate for his Bar Mitzvah in Toronto telling him that a tree had been planted in Israel in his name. Having lost the certificate, but always having the tree in the back of his mind, Sherman sets out on a journey to track down exactly where the tree was planted, hoping for some sort of closure by being able to visit it for himself.

This sends Sherman on a journey exploring the history of the Jewish National Fund, famous for its campaigns to “turn the desert green” which raised money to plant trees in the Jewish state, that finds Sherman looking for answers in both Toronto and Tel Aviv. What begins as a simple search for this tree turns into a more complex look at the history of Zionism, as well as the darker history of Israel’s Canada Park, a densely treed national park built atop former Palestinian villages.

These complexities of the film get slightly lost in a few moments that feel too slanted, including a scene where Sherman shows Toronto’s Walk With Israel from the perspective of pro-Palestine protesters, and only focuses in on a few hecklers from the Israeli side. To his credit, Sherman balances this out by interviewing others, including journalist John Goddard who was the first to write about Canada Park in the mainstream press back in 1981, who explains that, despite what he uncovered, the history of Israel and its existence is still much more complex than the other side would like to admit.

In one of the film’s best scenes, Sherman visits a rabbi who speaks about the difference between being against some of the things that Israel has done and being anti-Semitic, which she characterizes as the belief that the Jewish state simply shouldn’t exist at all. She explains that valid criticisms of certain policies and actions taken by the Israeli government spill over into anti-Semitism when people start saying that the Jewish people don’t have the right to a homeland.

As Sherman uncovers more of the history behind the JNF and their tree planting program, he starts to reevaluate his own Jewish identity and relationship to the state of Israel, a personal journey that makes up the bulk of the film. While the politics of My Tree are thorny and complex, the film itself is engaging and sparks a very thought-provoking conversation.

My Tree is available to watch from April 29th until May 9th. It includes a Q&A. Digital tickets and more information can be found right here.

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