review by hugh whelan
Andrew McConnell and Gary Keane’s Gaza is a documentary that offers an insider perspective on the ordinary lives of Palestinians living on the Gaza strip. Keane and McConnell strive to counter the typically violence-ridden depictions of Gaza by instead structuring the documentary around the lives of the ordinary people living under the blockade.
Through beautifully cinematic camerawork, Keane and McConnell invite the audience on a journey through the city, and produce an endearing portrayal of a people who suffer enormously but continue to dream for a day when things may be better. “In Gaza, you never know what’s going to happen in the next five minutes” says one taxi driver. However, rather than allowing the violence to overcome their lives, the film illustrates a city of resilient people who retain a powerful sense of hope for the future.
The film opens on the seaside, as we are introduced to a young boy who explains that his dream is to be a fisherman, and to own his own fishing boat. It becomes evident as the documentary progresses just how much of a pipe dream this is: the Gazans are restricted to fishing within a “three-mile limit” by the Israeli blockade, which leads to chronic overfishing and lack of food.
The documentary’s strength is in its tastefully minimal portrayal of the conflict. Violence in Gaza is present in the background, but it does not dominate the screen. Scenes of violence are contextualised by documenting the lives of the medics who respond to those injured in the conflict, rather than interviewing those perpetrating the violence. The film successfully navigates the complicated task of which political “side” to take by documenting a number of varied perspectives on the ongoing conflict. Through interviews with young children, the middle-aged, and older Palestinian people, a variety of perspectives are offered, with one belief held in common: that the Israeli-imposed blockade is inhumane, and arguably the source of much of the conflict and tension in the strip.
The documentary offers illuminating, nuanced insight into life in Gaza that is a testament to the veteran experience of the filmmakers and their four years spent in Gaza documenting the conflict. They successfully capture the essence of a city that is full of vitality that is being suppressed by the blockade. Life under the blockade is fraught with hardship: there is no employment, leaving the Strip is banned, which leaves the Gazan people with seemingly no future. This feeling of imprisonment leads many (particularly young men) to believe that violence is the only answer. However, the city itself is far more than just a war zone. Keane and McConnell capture stunning moments of beauty and colour: Palestinian people riding their horses in the sea, a young student practicing her cello in the rubble of a building, and children playing with sparklers on the streets.
Gaza is a triumph in terms of what it achieves: it successfully captures the life and energy of a city that is fraught with violence but is not defined by it. It communicates the urgency with which the blockade needs to be ended, but does not present an over-the-top, radically political agenda. It teaches us that rather than perpetuating the cycle of side-taking, escalating violence and finger-pointing, what the people of Gaza need first and deserve most is to be liberated.
Gaza will screen at the IFI until August 22nd.