Saaren Films Inc., Six Island Productions Inc., Musa Dagh Productions (Streaming platforms)
Noura Kevorkian’s Batata is an astonishing document of time, change, and humanity. Shot over the span of a decade, starting in 2009, Kevorkian follows a Syrian family on a Lebanese farm as they seek to establish an existence as migrant workers harvesting potatoes. Before long, a vivid sense of life materializes before your eyes. Amidst a complicated political environment, there emerges a swirl of farming, talking, cooking, living, being. The family’s patriarch, Abu Jamil, comes to develop an unlikely and genuinely moving friendship with Mousa, an Armenian-Lebanese farmer, one that crosses religious boundaries. But the cruelty of history and the broader world ultimately impose themselves. As the Syrian Civil War breaks out in 2011, Batata stays with the family through the growing strife and conflict. Before long, the unthinkable happens, again and again. Eventually, Maria, Abu Jamil’s middle-aged daughter, sharpens into view as the film’s true subject, which shifts to chronicle her efforts to protect and keep her family together through the growing refugee crisis. The combined effects leave a deep mark. Accounts of war typically drop viewers in after everything is lost, but here is the rare artifact that captures, with power and precision, the exact lives left behind. For its stunning accomplishment in the documentary form, and its focus on the preeminence of humanity under conflict, Batata is recognized with a Peabody Award.