Palestine Pulse

Can Gaza's troubles get Ireland an Oscar?

Article Summary
Ireland's nominee to the Academy Awards, "Gaza," sets the siege — brought on by history, Israel, Hamas and the abandonment of the international community — as the villain.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Eight Palestinians who are the subjects of the documentary "Gaza" have in common that their lives have changed by the siege in the Gaza Strip, but other than that, these major and minor characters — among whom are a cello player, a youth with little prospects and an ambulance driver — cannot be more different from one another.

Directed by Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell, the 92-minute documentary captures both the diversity and the commonalities of the Gaza Strip, casting an unorthodox glance at the situation on the ground over a longer period of time than most other films. The film took four years to make, starting in 2014.

The directors, who explain the narrative behind the documentary on the "Gaza" official website, have noted that they have met Palestinians from all walks of life through a cast of major and minor characters. “The siege, brought on by history, Israel, Hamas and the abandonment of the international community, is the villain of our story,” the website reads.

One of the characters in the documentary is Ahmed, who was barely 12 years old when the team began shooting the documentary in 2014. From a poor family, Ahmed has 40 siblings since his father married three women. He loves fishing and he dreams of becoming a “big shot” at the port and owning a large fishing boat. But the difficult living conditions have prevented him from fulfilling his dream, and so he begins participating in the Great Return March protests at the Gaza border. Ibrahim Abu Kas, an ambulance worker in Gaza who has lived through three wars, also participated every Friday in the marches. His job brings him in contact with injured protesters on the verge of death, which makes him aware of the risk he takes when participating in the marches and in his everyday work when he rushes to troubled areas to save lives, not knowing if he will become a casualty himself.

Karma, a young girl from a middle-class family, finds consolation in playing the cello. The film shows how she escapes to the Conservatory of Music during the Israeli assaults so that she could drown out the sound of shellings with her music.

Fady Hanouna, one of the production managers of the film, told Al-Monitor during the Red Carpet Human Rights Film Festival in Gaza City that the documentary is social as well as political. “It narrates Gaza under a different light by focusing on the lives of citizens in detail amid the difficult circumstances of siege and war,” he said. Hanouna pointed out that the Irish crew — who followed the characters on and off for four years — sometimes put their own lives at risk when trying to film at the marches and other clashes. They also faced difficulties over the funding of the documentary, in obtaining entry permits issued by the Israeli authorities and circumventing the red tape in Gaza. 

“We decided to screen it as the opening film at the Red Carpet Human Rights Film Festival to express our thanks for this solidarity, so we invited the representative of Ireland to Palestine to attend the opening and he attended the event,” he added.

The Palestinian team had been unable to travel abroad to participate in the screenings of the documentary in 2018. The film, which has been screened at many international festivals, has won the best documentary film award at the 2019 Irish Film Festival, which prompted the Irish Film and Television Academy to nominate it to represent Ireland at the 92nd Academy Awards in the best international film category.

Hanouna also underlined the importance of Ireland nominating the film for the Academy Awards as “a message of support and solidarity that is very significant to the Palestinians.” 

When the documentary was screened as the opening film of the Red Carpet Festival, hundreds of Palestinians gathered to watch it on the giant screen near the closed Amer Cinema. The documentary simultaneously played at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah in the West Bank.

Executive director of the Red Carpet festival Muntaser al-Sabaa told Al-Monitor that "Gaza" indeed deserves to make it to the Oscars. He explained that the documentary was not based on the temporal development of events, as it jumps from one event to another without following a chronological order.

Sabaa noted that despite death and oppression, the documentary’s most prominent message is to highlight the unbridled desire of the city and its people to live.

The film industry in Gaza is still facing great difficulties that were obvious during the Red Carpet Human Rights Film Festival that was scheduled to be held at Amer Cinema, which was built in 1956 and shut down 23 years ago, Sabaa noted.

He explained that the festival organizers obtained written approval from the film theater’s owners, but they changed their minds only one day before the festival without any explanation.

Sabaa believes that the owners were subjected to threats in Gaza, saying, “It is certain that something of the sort happened, but I do not know what it is exactly, and they did not explain to me their decision. So we decided to hold the festival on the street in front of the film theater because we had no other solution — it was either outdoors or we would have had to cancel the festival.”

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Ahmad Melhem is a Palestinian journalist and photographer based in Ramallah for Al-Watan News. He writes for a number of Arabic outlets. On Twitter: @ahmadme44502893

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