Without any doubt, one of the essentials of cinema, or therefore any form of art, is the idea of taking the spectator to a place that is unfamiliar. Whereas this place might be fictional, even fantastic by nature, perhaps one of the most revelatory experiences takes place when the place seems familiar, but actually is quite the opposite. For many of us, geographical or emotional spaces, from foreign countries to the idea of family, may seem familiar, but time and time again we realize we know so very little about these places, even if we have experienced them ourselves.
Many of these place are part of the global consciousness, much due to a more or less constant press coverage. Places such as Damascus or Fukushima are, undoubtedly, known to us, but then again many of us would have to admit they are nothing more than a collection of news stories, images and video footage played on repeat in the media. For director Andrew McConnell and Garry Keane, this kind of relationship we tend to have to these places was simply not enough, and thus became one of the inspirations for their project “Gaza”, a film exploring the life and the people of the Gaza Strip. In their statement on the film’s homepage, both men state clearly that going beyond the images of conflict and misery was one of the essential goals of the documentary, depicting Gaza as a place of dreams and hopes, a place populated with characters that feel very familiar to us.
Within their documentary, McConnell and Keane follow the lives of several people living in the Gaza Strip, capturing scenes of everyday life. For example, we get to know 19-year-old Karma Khaial, a student of Law and passionate cello player as well as a member of one of the largest family living in Gaza. While she talks about her dreams of her personal future, these ideas are always connected with her family and her home, a place she realizes is under constant threat. Similarly, her mother, Manal Khalafawi, thinks back on a past, on an image of a place filled with hope and peace, an image which slowly fades away as the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians overcasts any thought of perhaps returning to this memory.
Although their film deals with hopes and dreams, the overall effect of a film such as “Gaza” is quite sobering. Especially in connection with the stories of Karma or her younger brother Ahmed, the audience is able to see two varying visions for the future, both of which clouded by the effects of the conflict. Apart from the threat to one’s own life, Keane and McConnell highlight that there is something more profound at stake in the images of young people throwing rocks at tanks or soldiers shooting at protesters, which is the idea of hope, of a future, or simply, of moving on with life. A cab driver, who has been arrested for not being able to pay his bills, quite eloquently sums up the dilemma, or rather the Sisyphean task of maintaining some kind of normality: still unable to pay for the necessary repairs on his car, his days as a cab driver are more or less numbered while doing the repairs, which he cannot pay for, will eventually result in another stay in prison.
In the end, Keane and McConnell may manage to give this abstract conflict from the news, a much needed human face. Besides the often bleak tales of life threatened by the reality of the conflict, there are also tales of people not giving up, not wanting to be prisoners of reality; for example, a man who stages theater performances for other people. There is also the quite impressive force in the dreams of people like Ahmed and Karma, young people unwilling to give in to the shackles of reality and who still dare to dream. In the end, these visions may be what is badly needed in places such as this. And eventually, the image of the ocean and the character looking out on the horizon may be the most powerful, because while the borders of the Gaza Strip may be limited, the view is not, even though the sounds of conflict may be heard as well.
“Gaza” is a powerful, human story about the life in the Gaza Strip region, a story of people and their dreams. Defined by a tone both sobering and hopeful, Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell manage to give a face to a conflict which many of us only know through the media or other sources. And while it does not demand anything from its viewer, the possibility of connecting with any of the people in the film or their stories may be the founding stone of a rise in interest, the possibility of change or at least the realization that although there may be borders between us, we may be not so far apart from each other.