Thursday, August 08, 2019

Gaza – understanding lives that are trapped in a place where change is far from certain (from 8 August)

A new documentary film sets out to show what ordinary life is like in Gaza. What do people do in the 141 square mile strip of land? What are their dreams? What’s it like to live in the third most populated polity in the world, trapped behind controlled crossings on its land border with Israel and Egypt?

Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell’s film Gaza is at its least complicated and most powerful as they begin to shine a spotlight on 18 contributors, giving them a few minutes each to tell their story. A 14-year-old boy lives with a dozen siblings in a three-room home. A young woman practices her cello and longs to play internationally. A taxi driver dips into his passengers’ stories. Slowly the lives and experiences are woven together.

The interviews aren’t totally natural. They’re like the well-shot taster videos that precede hopeful artists auditioning on Saturday night TV shows. But the essence of life going on, dreams dashed, prolonged uncertainty and a lack of hope for a changed situation is clear.

The long coastline is a constant companion. You’re never more than seven miles from the sea in Gaza. The water at first offers respite from the daily power outages and the strain of living under blockade. The shoreline scenes suggest escape before the realisation that the open sea has an invisible border three miles out, beyond which boats must not pass. Sea trade and transit are forbidden. And with fish stocks diminishing, a child’s vision of growing up to helm a boat out at sea turns into a dubious aspiration.

For the first hour, the bricks are laid. Then comes an air raid that knocks them down and introduces the violence that accompanies the constrained living conditions and failing economy in Gaza. The tone changes as a middle-aged woman describes how past actions have stirred in her murderous thoughts.

For a few moments I wonder if the filmmakers didn’t trust the impact of the 18 voices. That they needed to show violence filmed from Gaza looking out across their border. Does it politicise the message? What measure of support is there for the young men that look like Davids slinging stones at the armoured Goliath over the border? How would I expect the story of 1980s Belfast to have been told?

Watching a programme or documentary about Palestine or Israel can be exhausting. There’s an instinctive fear that there’s a political agenda, that someone’s story will be told at the expense of someone else’s narrative which would challenge understanding. By even offering a view on this film, I’ll be accused of being someone’s sympathiser or spreading someone’s propaganda.

The documentary isn’t pro-Hamas and isn’t anti-Israel. As a film, Gaza offers a compelling and compassionate image of a population who have little individual agency to change what’s happening around them.

Its agenda is pro-human, pro-listening, pro-putting yourself in other people’s shoes. It asks how the whole world could know that two million people are trapped but so little is done to change the circumstances. A question that can be repeated for many different conflicted places around the world.

The final words “God help us” are well chosen given the preceding 90 minutes of footage that allow audiences to look through a window at life in the troubled titular region.

There’s a pre-release screening of Gaza on Thursday 8 August followed by a director Q&A at the Kennedy Centre Omniplex as part of Féile an Phobail, before the film goes is released to Irish cinemas from Friday 9, with screenings locally in Omniplex and Queen’s Film Theatre.

1 comment:

Mr Ulster said...

Excellent review, Alan. You may find the artists' talk about their film of interest: