“People from other countries can’t see anything other than we live in constant wars and it bothers me so much. They only see the side they want to see. They should look deeper.” These are the wise words of 19-year-old Karma who lives with her mother and two sisters in Gaza. While Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell's insightful documentary, Gaza, achieves some of its aims in revealing the ordinary people of Gaza away from the cyclical violence shown on news channels, the longer it continues, the more we see of the war and bloodshed so commonly associated with the region.
We're reminded early on that Gaza is only 25 miles long and seven miles wide, with almost two million people currently living there. Any thought of leaving has been cut off by the Israeli and Egyptian governments who closed their borders once Hamas came to power, effectively trapping millions inside. Food and provisions are allowed into the region, but nothing goes out, and with constant electricity outages and only 4% of drinkable water available (the rest must be purified) it’s easy to see why life is so difficult.
Crisply shot by first time co-director McConnell, Gaza gives us brief snippets of time with each of the people we meet, some of whom reappear throughout the film. As with the upcoming war-torn documentary, For Sama, it highlights the indomitable human spirit possessed by those facing almost impossible circumstances. Despite the restrictions imposed upon them by their leaders and surrounding governments and a near-constant fear of war erupting once again, they show that live goes on as normally, wherever possible.
Some of those we meet include young wannabe fisherman Ahmed (“I was born by the sea, I live by the sea and I will die by the sea.”), who lives in the rundown refugee camp with a large family, a taxi driver who ferries locals around the region but struggles to pay his bills, a young lifeguard named Mahmoud, energetic and bright-eyed surfers, a paramedic who does what he can to patch up injured border protesters and, many more. What becomes apparent very quickly is how much the sea means to so many, representing a freedom that cannot be felt anywhere else in the region. But even then, fishermen are restricted from trawling beyond a three-mile limit by the Israeli gunboats that patrol the waters, cutting off another key trade and essential food supply.
From the market place and city centre, to the shelled-out buildings (that are still populated) and sandy shoreline, Keane and McConnell give us the faces and voices that make up the Gaza population. Shots of the Israeli border linger ominously in the background before it takes full focus in the latter half of the film. War breaks out again as missiles and bullets are fired, while defiant young men sling rocks and burn tyres in response. There are thousands of casualties, with hundreds of them children, as the war narrative slowly takes precedence over the documentary's earlier focus. It would have been insightful to hear from Hamas supporters to understand how they justify their extremist stance when they can see the suffering of their neighbours. Perhaps efforts were made to secure these on film, we’ll never know, but their presence would’ve added an important angle.
Subtly deployed at first, Ray Fabi’s score eventually is used too liberally, pushing hard for poetical moments set against slow motion shots of the city, instead coming across as false and totally unneeded. While it works well to sell the trailer, there is no need to manipulate the viewer as it attempts to here. The people's stories are enough and their difficult situation doesn’t need such an overbearing soundtrack. And while you can hardly blame the directors for capturing footage of the war as it broke out around them, by the end of the documentary you feel it has taken up too much of their attention, slightly betraying the very objective they set out to achieve.
Gaza opens in select UK cinemas on August 9.