Sunday, February 3, 2019

Sundance with Abe: Gaza

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the sixth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Directed by Garry Keane
World Cinema Documentary Competition

It’s almost impossible to go into any film that involves a political situation without being predisposed to expect certain things. Existing knowledge of history and events informs the viewing experience, and can lead to a laser-focused analysis that questions whether each case study or data point truly captures the whole picture. There are few regions with more controversy than the Middle East, and most who are even mildly informed will have an opinion about the role of Israelis and Palestinians in the ongoing conflict. The aim of this documentary seems clear, though the picture it paints is far from complete.

“Gaza” takes audiences into a land inhabited by passionate people with big dreams, though most have not been able to achieve them because of the way their lives are regulated by Israeli occupation. Ahmed, who drives a taxi in Gaza City, gets to talk with the different personalities who gets in his cab, all of whom share a similar sensibility about how they are forced to live. The sea serves as a vision of hope, as it offers beauty and the promise of something beyond and aspirational for a better future.

This film opens with a brief but sparing historical lesson, noting the withdrawal of Israel from settlements in Gaza in 2005, the subsequent democratic election of Hamas to govern the territory, and the blockade imposed on the region by Israel as a result. After that, all frustration and anger is directed at Israel for the control it continues to exert, with barely a mention of the negative and destructive influence that is Hamas. The argument, made by multiple Gazans interviewed, that Israeli response to the throwing of rocks at soldiers is unjust because the rocks weren’t going to hurt them anyway is far from convincing, and that serves as the basis for the call to resistance against Israeli occupation.

Though its portrayal of the way things are between Israel and Gaza may not be accurate, which is problematic enough in itself for those will take this as a factual educational lesson, this film is mostly about the people in Gaza and how they go about their daily lives given the way they perceive things to be. In that sense, it is visually appealing and striking, showcasing the diversity and promise that exists within its boundaries. As a documentary, it’s deeply irresponsible, but its presentation has some artistic merit.


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