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Gaza, dir: Gary Keane & Andrew McConnell

Thursday 9 January 2020, by Tommy Hodgson

Gaza never falters in its intimate portrayal of humans whose lives have been profoundly affected by political decisions made without their consent or interests at heart. The footage is unmanufactured; it is not a passive news report about the body count of an active war zone but a real character study of personal and societal perseverance through the most devastating circumstances. It is both destruction and happiness; pain and dancing; and only political insofar as it spells out that sympathy is not enough consolation for an idea of a free and just Gaza.

After the film screening at Soho’s Curzon, the co-director Andrew McConnell spoke of how he was welcomed overwhelmingly into the local community; approaching Gaza as an outsider actually created the impetus for the most intimate and heart-wrenching moments of the film. In accessing these stories, building relationships and foundations, the directors were able to breach the only realistic difference between Gaza as a ‘big open air prison’ and an actual prison. Lack of drinkable water, electricity shortages and barriers to travel render this obviously stunning and culturally rich land a zone of restrictions. It is thus sadly relevant that the directors use imagery of the sea, which is culturally important to the Gazan psyche and way of life but ultimately serves as a false symbol of freedom and escape. This gives the undeniably beautiful shots of Gazans socialising by the beach, silhouetted against the backdrop of sunsets over a long flat sea, a bittersweet feeling.

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Everything in Gaza is told through the eyes of its subjects; fishermen, taxi drivers, tailors and lifeguards create the actual scope of Gazan life, the directors are just a conduit. It is apparent, and indeed painfully so, that Gazans are trying to forge their own expression out of a dire situation, evident through profiles of a disabled Palestinian rapper and a family of aspiring models creating their own catwalk at home. For such dreams to flourish even in a limited sense, in a land under massive blockade and siege, truly speaks to the spirit that the directors gleaned in their exploration of Gaza. This holds even more weight given that the directors’ original film idea was just to document the surprisingly popular pastime of surfing in Gaza. Both the original niche approach and the broader final project are powerful in that they deflate the conflict narrative surrounding merely the mention of the word ‘Gaza’.

The biggest revelation of the film, an underlying gut punch lurking throughout, comes as many Gazans, often young unemployed men, approach the Israeli border fence – a symbol of oppression and denial of a future. The harrowing scenes depict the futility of Gazans throwing rocks up against a much more powerful and ruthless enemy, but doing so out of frustration and lack of opportunities; as an outlet not as a solution. Seeing sieges in real time, concerning people and families the film has already fleshed out, brings home the devastation and misery of the cycle of conflict on the ground in this region. It is a reminder of the reality of Gazans, that the humour, the singing and the brotherhood of its people happen not just in spite of the terror and violence but because of it; this is the crux of solidarity and resistance.


[1all photos from gazadocumentary.com

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