GAZA is a 2019 film by Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell. GAZA brings us into a unique place beyond the reach of television news reports to reveal a world rich with eloquent and resilient characters, offering us a cinematic and enriching portrait of a people attempting to lead meaningful lives against the rubble of perennial conflict. This elegantly shot and masterfully crafted portrait of Palestinian life offers a rare chance to be immersed in the heart of Gaza, as we glimpse behind the walls of this misunderstood land to get to know the real people who inhabit it.
I spoke to Director and Producer of GAZA Garry Keane, a documentary filmmaker in Ireland for the last 25 years. Garry has received two nominations in the “Best Director TV” category in the Irish Film & Television Academy Awards. Garry explained the premise behind the film and it’s importance to the people of Gaza’.
“The film is our attempt to shine a light on the ordinary people of Gaza and to highlight the fact that they’re forgotten about in popular media. We wanted to give a voice to people who really have been dehumanised in the process that’s going on with the conflict in Israel. It’s a one-sided propaganda machine that just cancels ordinary people out of the equation and we just felt that they weren’t getting a look in and that nobody was seeing the truth behind the headlines that are conflict based and propaganda ridden. This is our attempt to put ordinary people on the screen with their ordinary life stories, just to make people aware of the fact that they need a voice, they need to be heard, and to make people realise that behind every big headline of conflict there is ordinary people suffering hugely, it’s the collective punishment of 2 million people as the result of the actions of very few”.
The Gaza Strip has been witness to huge upheaval since ancient times, and little has change today. The Strip is blockaded by Israel and Egypt and has been witness to three wars in the past decade. The effect of this siege has been devastating. Almost two million Palestinians now live in poverty. Unemployment sits at 50%, electricity is available for only four hours each day, and the water is now largely undrinkable.
The United Nations has publicly said that the Gaza Strip will be unliveable by 2020.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in making this film is attempting to tell a story from such a place, that western audiences can relate to? Keane explains how they did this;
We thought about finding single stories, which in their telling would encapsulate the essence of what it is like to live in Gaza. But we decided that there are too many stories to tell and to take that approach would limit our ability to reflect the unique collective spirit of almost two million people, doing their best under the most extreme circumstances imaginable. Through a cast of major and minor characters, we meet Palestinians from all walks of life, who individually have a strong story to tell but who together, create a
portrait of Gaza like no other. The siege, brought on by history, Israel, Hamas and the abandonment of the international community, is the villain of our story.
For someone from Ireland, the Gaza Strip is an awfully long distance to think about shooting a documentary, so I asked Garry how the partnership between Andrew and him had started;
“In 2012, I was developing a project called ‘One Eye on the World’ which was going to be following 5 or 6 conflict photographers all over the world. One of those photographers who I came across during the research period was Andrew McConnell, so I contacted Andrew and during the course of the research I learned that Andrew had worked and filmed in Gaza. He had done a great project called the ‘Gaza Surf Club’ way back in 2010 and I was fascinated by that project and when funding didn’t come through for the other project (One Eye on the World), we started talking. I said to Andrew, “Have you ever thought about making a documentary in Gaza?” and he said he was a photographer and had no experience. I said to him
that I would do the documentary part and you do the photography bit, we could see if we joined forces would our varying skillsets make something happen there?
The conversation started in 2012, we ended up in the middle of a war in 2014 by accident, came out of there with about 150 hours of the most brutal, horrible footage you’ll ever see in your life. Went back in in 2015 with a small amount of funding from screen Ireland and then it took us from 2015 to 2018 to raise the money to go back in again and finish the project properly, so it’s been a long time coming”.
In something as highly politically charged as Israeli foreign policy, one could be forgiven for expecting the worst out of certain portions of the public when reacting to Keane and O’Connell’s film. I was surprised to learn that the general consensus and reaction was hugely positive;
“For the most part, we’ve had a very positive reaction. At some of the screenings, we’ve had the token Israeli Lobby coming along to shout abuse at us and leave, but those people aren’t interested in engaging in any kind of meaningful conversation they just want to shout their slogans and go so we’re not really going to worry about that. We had armed police in Sundance Film Festival, because they were concerned with problems, but they never really materialised to any degree. What’s been really heartening in America or any of our screens is that we were approached, after every single screening, by Jewish people who thanked us for making the film and said that they are constantly tarred with the same brush as those who believe in the Israeli government’s decision to do what they do and that they don’t have any part or want any part in it. They want people to understand that they, as Jewish people, do not agree with the Israeli foreign policy and policy of occupation. That was really positive. We had screenings with 500 schoolkids and it was fantastic to be able to talk those kids and say, “look, you need to talk to your politicians and start a conversation here”. We’ve had a fantastic run, it’s been shown all over the world now and somewhere down the line we are off to America to show it in Harvard, San Francisco and all over Canada,
we’re getting exposure and that’s the whole point of it. To get people to look at this film and to give them a new view on what’s happening in Gaza.”
With the film screening in plethora of countries in the past few, and upcoming months, I was curious to hear whether or not there would be a screening in Israel;
“We’re going over to Israel on October the 31 st , there’s between 6 and 8 screenings being set up over there at the moment and we’re going to visit 2 of them. We’re thrilled to be going there, of all countries, we wanted to make sure it was shown in Israel. We don’t know what the reception will be, I’m sure quite a lot of the audience will be Arab-Israeli, but I’m sure we’ll get the alternate view as well! We wait with bated breath for the debates post screenings! But of course, we are delighted to be there to screen it”
Over the coming months, the Red-Carpet Film Festival is due to take place in Gaza, thanks to donations made in conjunction with this film. Keane and O’Connell hope to show the fruits of their labour at the Festival, and are very close to hitting their goal;
“The Red-Carpet Film Festival in Gaza is due to take place between the 7 th and 10 th of November this year, so we are well on the way. We are hoping to raise €18.5k and we’ve raised just over €14k and we have some fundraisers coming up. The nearest one to Cork City is in Youghal on the 16 th of October which has drinks and canapés and chats and that sort of thing! It’s a very important one and we’d love to nail it, as 100% of the proceeds are going to the screening”
GAZA is a documentary that people from all walks of life should see if the opportunity arises. So often in the modern 24-hour news cycle, the people at the heart of great conflicts are forgotten and so is the humanity of the piece. Each person can do their small part to re-humanise the many who find themselves caught in the conflict of few.