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SUNDANCE 2019 World Cinema Documentary Competition

Review: Gaza

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- Irish filmmakers Andrew McConnell and Garry Keane spent four years documenting the day-to-day lives of Gazans

Review: Gaza

Playing in the World Cinema Documentary Competition of the Sundance Film Festival before heading to the Dublin International Film Festival later this month, and helmed by Irish co-directors Andrew McConnell and Garry KeaneGaza [+see also:
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 is made up of interviews with people living on the land that runs for 25 miles along the Mediterranean Sea and which is just seven miles wide. The decision to only talk to Gazans will split audiences, but is a recognition of how seldom we hear the story of Gaza told by ordinary civilians. It’s a documentary of our times, telling a story designed to elicit an emotional response from the audience – and this it does very successfully. 

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There are few parts of the world that stoke up as much emotional tension when mentioned as Gaza, where there have been three wars with Israel in the past decade, following the arrival of the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas as the governing body in 2007. Its borders with neighbours Israel and Egypt are closed, hindering the movement of goods and people in or out of the territory freely. Former British prime minister David Cameron said in the House of Commons in June 2010, “Everybody knows that we are not going to sort out the problem with the Middle East peace process while there is, effectively, a giant open prison in Gaza.” The United Nations has said that, by 2020, Gaza will be uninhabitable. 

But what do we actually know about the two million people who call the Gaza Strip home? They are reported on as a monolithic whole and not as individuals, and that’s a position that McConnell and Keane try to redress in Gaza. McConnell is a multi-award-winning photographer who first went to Gaza in 2011 to take pictures of surfers. McConnell met Keane in 2012 for another project, but it did not take long for the two men, who grew up on different sides of the Irish border, to decide to collaborate on a film on Gaza.

They began filming just as the 50-day 2014 war broke out and carried on right up until the Great March of Return in 2018, which called for the right of return for refugees. However, the construction of their documentary isn’t a chronology; it’s a film split into three distinct acts. In the first part, we meet fishermen, tailors, project managers and students trying to get on with their lives as best they can. In the middle act, the filmmakers demonstrate how such a life is not possible, no matter how hard the characters try. The tailors cannot finish their work on time, because the electricity keeps cutting out, and the fishermen are restricted to casting their lines and throwing out their nets in the three miles of water they are permitted to sail in, before gunboats send them back from whence they came. The final section of the film shows the inevitable cycle of violence, an inescapable fact of their lives, where death is commonplace. It’s a raw, emotive film, one that demands to be watched, and is unapologetic in its goals. There are so many stories that are angled so as to dehumanise the people of Gaza that these Irish filmmakers are actually being quite radical by portraying their everyday activity as normal. 

Gaza is a Real Films and Filmoption International (Canada) production, and was made in co-production with the UK’s Fine Point Films, Germany’s Gebrueder Beetz Filmproduktion and ZDF, in association with ArteScreen Ireland, Sweden’s Sveriges Television (SVT) and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.

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