As a heated debate continues at the United Nations over whether Israel committed war crimes in its war in the Gaza Strip last winter, filmmakers are weighing in with their own personal and emotional takes on the conflict that claimed 13 Israeli and 1,400 Palestinian lives.
Thirteen films about Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s term for its 22-day assault on Gaza, were screened at the recent Palestine Film Festival in Boston. Eleven of them were shorts organized by Ramallah-based filmmaker Najwa Najjar. “We were in Ramallah during maybe one of the darkest winters we ever passed through,” she said. “Not being able to do anything was so frustrating.” So Najjar and other local filmmakers decided to send out an appeal on Facebook, asking colleagues the world over to submit a film depicting “one incident, feeling, person, etc... connected to Gaza.”
The result is Gaza’s Winter, a series of moving pieces from Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, Jordan, England, France, Spain and Iceland. The clips run the gamut from the literal to the abstract, from footage of dead children in Gaza to corn popping on a stove in France. The Gazan shorts make up in brutal footage for what they may lack in professional luster, with shots of homes in rubble and parents recounting losing their children. The European films add polish and a universal take on violence and suffering.
Lullabye, a Spanish film by Pilar Tavora, mixes images of a woman crying “Son!” while clutching a bloody white sheet with those of a peace march in Andalusia, all set to a mournful flamenco rendition of the Federico Garcia Lorca poem Reyerta, or "Fight." The Icelandic short Faraway War by Fahad Falur Jabali opens with the sound of crisp, ethereal singing, as an Icelandic teenager eats cereal in his kitchen, casually eying television images of children being rushed to a hospital. The TV shuts off and the boy goes to school, but to chilling effect the sights and sounds of Gaza follow carefree Icelanders as they go about their day.
In addition to Gaza’s Winter, the Boston film festival screened three other new releases about Gaza. Fatenah by Ahmad Habash, Palestine’s first animated film, documents the travails of a young woman dying of breast cancer as she tries in vain to get adequate treatment. Gaza-London by Dima Hamdan shows the agony of a young man forced to part with his cell phone during a radio interview in England last winter, knowing his family in Gaza might try to call with news of his mother. Finally, I am Ghazza by Asma Beseiso looks at the effects of the most recent siege, as well as past violence, on Gaza’s youngest residents.
The films are difficult to watch. Following a screening, it was no surprise to hear audience members describe feelings of "hopelessness," in spite of an apparent effort by Beseiso to end the last of the Gaza series on an upbeat note. One college student leaving the theater said he found something heartening about the series – “the fact that people want to talk about that, and make these films, and tell people about it.”
The unsparing close-ups do provide a welcome splash of reality as politicians in Geneva, Washington and New York debate the definition of "disproportionate force" and whether last winter’s assault warrants further investigation.
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