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Friday, January 26, 2007

Gaza Strip

A film by James Longley

74 minutes | USA | 35mm | 1:1.85 | color | 2002

"Beautiful, heartbreaking, raw and revealing."
Daily Star

* * *

"An unflinchingly honest portrayal of a population under siege.
deserves the
widest possible audience."
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

* * *

"Deserves merit and attention...one of the most important
documentaries of recent times."
Film Threat, Hollywood's Indie Voice

Distributed in North America by
Arab Film Distribution
10035 35th Ave. NE - Seattle, WA 98125
tel. 206 322 0882 / fax. 206 322 4586
info@arabfilm.com www.arabfilm.com

synopsis:

Gaza Strip pushes the viewer headlong into the tumult of the Israeli-
occupied Gaza, examining the lives and views of ordinary
Palestinians.

The documentary often sees the world through the eyes of young
people. The central character is Mohammed Hejazi, a 13-year-old
paperboy in Gaza City, one of the young "stone-throwers" who risk
their lives throwing rocks at Israeli tanks across the barbwire
fences. As the newspapers arrive announcing Ariel Sharon's victory
in the Israeli elections, Mohammed offers up tirades against Arafat
and Sharon alike. We also catch glimpses of his inner world: his
sense of hopelessness, his sorrow at the IDF killing of his best
friend, his conception of death.

As the camera floats through the Gaza Strip, we encounter signs of
the occupation everywhere: crowds of Palestinians are making their
way along the beach on foot, donkey carts and tractor trailers when
the Israeli soldiers close the roads. The Palestinians interviewed
as they pass by reveal a common internal conflict, between anger at
the Israeli occupation and the desire to live in peace.

In the Khan Younis refugee camp, Gaza Strip documents an extremely
controversial incident in February, which fell largely through the
cracks of international scrutiny, when the Israeli Defense Forces
used an unidentified, powerful gas during a firefight, hospitalizing
over 200 Palestinians with severe recurrent convulsions.

Inside a Red Cross tent near an Israeli checkpoint, a Palestinian
mother and daughter debate the politics of their situation. As night
falls on their camp, the mother describes how Israeli soldiers came
with bulldozers, leveled their home and destroyed all of their
belongings.

The eye of the film is usually passive and watchful, sometimes
almost invisible, even in the most intimate settings. When a
Palestinian child is blown up in Rafah, we see the entire process of
his internment, from morgue to mosque to grave, unblinkingly. The
camera moves slowly over a Palestinian neighborhood being strafed by
Israeli machine-gun fire, schoolchildren scattering.

Gaza Strip culminates in a nighttime raid in April, when Israeli
bulldozers stormed into the Khan Younis refugee camp under the cover
of tank and helicopter fire, and destroyed the homes of 450
Palestinians - the first of many such armed incursions into "Area A"
by the IDF.

short synopsis:

In January of 2001, American director James Longley traveled to the
Gaza Strip. His plan was to stay for two weeks to collect
preliminary material for a documentary film on the Palestinian
Intifada. It was during his stay that Ariel Sharon was elected as
Israeli Prime Minister. As violence erupted around him, Longley
threw away his return ticket and filmed for the next three months,
acquiring nearly 75 hours of footage. Gaza Strip, his first feature
documentary, is an extraordinary and painful journey into the lives
of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip struggling with the day-to-day
trials of the Israeli occupation. Filmed in verité style and
without narration, Gaza Strip at last gives voice to a population
largely ignored by mainstream media.

director biography:

James Longley was born in Oregon in 1972 and received a film
education at the University of Rochester and Wesleyan University in
the United States, and the Russian Institute of Cinematography
(VGIK) in Moscow. James received the Student Academy Award from the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his short
documentary, "Portrait of Boy with Dog," about a boy in a Moscow
orphanage. "Gaza Strip," his first feature documentary, was produced
on location during the spring of 2001.

production credits:

Director | Producer: James Longley

Camera: James Longley

Additional Camera: Abed Shana

Sound: James Longley

Editor: James Longley

Assistant Editor: Afaf Shawwa

Music: James Longley

Production Coordinator (Gaza): Mohammed Mohanna

Translation: Mark Khano
Abed Younis
Sherene Seikaly
Karim Kobeissi
Souad Kirama
Romain De Keralio
Gerard Woldvedt
Mia Lotringer
Rana El-Fil
Afaf Shawwa
Waleed Al Gharaibeh
Degaulle Adili

reviews:

New York Times
Reviewed by: A.O. Scott

"Hard Life in Gaza, Through 13-Year-Old Eyes"

Like most news reports and television images coming out of the
Middle East these days, "Gaza Strip," an unsparing new documentary
by James Longley, offers little reason for optimism. The film, which
opens today at the Anthology Film Archives in the East Village, was
shot in the winter and spring of 2001, and it provides a grim,
upsetting glimpse at the lives of some of the 1.2 million
Palestinians who live in the crowded cities and refugee camps of
Gaza.

Mr. Longley makes powerful use of the techniques of cinema vérité.
The absence of voice-over narration and talking-head interviews
gives his portrait of daily life under duress a riveting immediacy.

Much of "Gaza Strip" follows Mohammed Hejazi, a 13-year-old
newspaper vendor. This youth, who left school after the second
grade, spends much of his spare time with other boys throwing rocks
at Israeli soldiers, even though his best friend was killed by the
gunfire that is the inevitable response, and his father, who had
spent time in an Israeli prison, once tied his son up to keep him at
home.

Mohammed presents a mixture of hardened cynicism and childish
innocence that is both heartbreaking and unnerving. He is equally
contemptuous of Ariel Sharon, whose election as prime minister takes
place early in the film, of Mr. Sharon's predecessor Ehud Barak and
of Yasir Arafat, and he fluctuates between weary sorrow and
militaristic bravado. ("We want weapons. We don't want food.")

A similar mixture of emotions is expressed by the adults in the
film. Sometimes in the same breath, they give voice to longings for
peaceful coexistence with Israel, to the wish to be left alone and
to the desire to drive the Jews not only out of Gaza but out of the
region altogether.

Mr. Longley's camera does not have to look far to find the sources
of their rage and despair: Israeli bulldozers demolishing houses and
date groves; an absurd traffic jam on the beach after roads have
been closed; emergency rooms full of wounded Palestinians, many of
them children. It is impossible to see these images and remain
unmoved, but the raw intensity of "Gaza Strip" is also a limitation,
since it is purchased by the absence of anything (aside from some
text at the beginning) that would provide some historical or
political context.

Given how polarized discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
have become, this means that audiences will watch through their own
ideological filters. Some will see the film as evidence of the
bottomless cruelty of the Israeli occupation. Others will note the
absence not only of any Israeli perspective, but also of any
discussion of the deadlier forms of Palestinian resistance or the
popularity of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the desperate neighborhoods
of Gaza.

Then again, it is not Mr. Longley's intention to analyze the
conflict, and in the best vérité tradition, there are moments
in "Gaza Strip" that disclose a wrenching human reality deeper and
more basic than any politics. At one point Mohammed muses on death
and the afterlife. His words cut against much of what we have heard
lately about the Muslim view of martyrdom and paradise.

He imagines receiving a stern interrogation from God - "Why did you
throw those rocks?" "Why did you steal?" - after which he will be
sent to heaven or hell, he doesn't know which. After some thought,
he decides that he would be happiest in the solitude of purgatory.
Such is the aspiration of a boy in Gaza.

The Seattle Times
Reviewed by: John Hartl

"Compelling Palestinian Film Benefits From Narrow Focus"

The stares of lost, desperate Palestinian children dominate this
surprisingly personal documentary, which was shot two years ago by
James Longley, an Oregon filmmaker who once studied cinematography
at a Moscow film school.

The images in "Gaza Strip" are often as beautiful as they are
disturbing, suggesting a continuous loop of the final freeze-frame
image from Francois Truffaut's 1959 classic, "The 400 Blows," in
which a young boy accuses the audience with his eyes when he
realizes he is trapped between adult authorities and the ocean.

Not that the sea can't also be a refuge here. As Longley's video
camera dwells on a languorous beach scene, one child describes the
Mediterranean as "so beautiful that you forget yourself." Still, the
waves are part of a border that makes children and older
Palestinians feel trapped, surrounded and ultimately suicidal.

Longley visited the Gaza Strip in January 2001, planning to stay for
a couple of weeks while he researched a film on the Palestinian
intifada. He remained for three months, focusing on an eloquent 13-
year-old newspaper vendor, Mohammed Hejazi, who speaks frankly about
the murder of his best friend, his contempt for Ariel Sharon, his
mistrust of Yasser Arafat ("Arafat is a spy"), and the difference
between this life and nonexistence.

"I think being dead would be easier," he says. He also worries that
he hasn't been a good Muslim and might not end up in Paradise.

What could have turned into propaganda instead becomes a portrait of
one child's understandably pragmatic reactions to extreme
circumstances. When Mohammed's unemployed father tells him not to
get shot in the back and become paralyzed (he's been throwing rocks
at Israeli tanks), he seems less concerned for his son's safety than
he is about whether the boy will be able to continue to provide the
main support for his destitute family.

Longley makes no attempt to present the Israeli viewpoint, to show
Palestinian destructiveness or to provide much in the way of a
historical context. He's simply concerned with the cumulative impact
of living under such conditions. Narrowing its focus so
rigorously, "Gaza Strip" presents a most persuasive vision of hell
on Earth.

Film Threat
Reviewed by: Phil Hall

The Gaza Strip is a fairly tiny place: it is only 28 miles long and
four miles wide. It is also fairly crowded: 1.2 million Palestinians
live here, and roughly one-third of the population reside in refugee
camps. It is also home to 6,000 Israelis who have taken 30% of this
area for themselves, complete with 24/7 security protection courtesy
of the Israeli Defense Forces.

American filmmaker James Longley visited this area in January 2001
with the original plan of staying two weeks. He remained for three
months and the result of his visit was "Gaza Strip," a brutally
effective documentary which provides a very rare glimpse into the
lives of the ordinary Palestinian people who live under Israeli
military occupancy. At a time when the Holy Land is wobbling on the
brink of civil war, "Gaza Strip" provides a tragic overview into the
daily challenge to stay alive in a war zone.

Told without narration and staying clear of any commentary by
Palestinian politicians, "Gaza Strip" begins its focus on a circle
of teenage boys lead by a 13-year-old newspaper street vendor named
Mohammed. These boys are the new fuel in the on-going intifada:
unschooled, angry, living in poverty, responding with crude
slingshots hurling broken bricks at Israeli tanks which fire back
with live ammunition. Mohammed recalls how a young friend was
fatally shot in the head even though he was not involved in an
intifada riot (the slain boy was gathering scrap metal from a buffer
zone between the Palestinians and Americans).

The film then travels throughout the Gaza Strip, offering sequences
which could rival Bunuel or Fellini--with a touch of Costa-Gavras
thrown in. A tranquil beach becomes polluted with automobiles, horse-
drawn carts and pedestrians following the Israeli blockade of a main
road. Helicopters hover in the twilight sky and send rockets into
apartment complexes, illuminating the night with brilliant bursts of
fiery light while explosions shower the streets with chunks and
fragments of destroyed buildings.

Ambulances race furiously through ancient streets, bringing bloody
adults and children into packed emergency rooms. An elderly woman,
sitting in the drafty entrance of a refugee camp tent, tearfully
recalls how the Israeli army bulldozed her house in retaliation for
an attack on an illegal Israeli settlement in a neighboring
town...an attack which the woman played no part in whatsoever.
Victims of toxic gas canisters fired by Israeli troops writhe in
convulsive pain on hospital beds, screaming at the top of their
lungs while family and medical aides try vainly to restrain them. A
child, no more than 10 years old, echoes the sentiments of his
elders by happily chiming to the camera: "We want to beat back the
Jews and kill them off" (and more than a few adults openly and
joyfully share these sentiments with the camera).

As portrayed in this film, the Gaza Strip exists without any sense
of Palestinian autonomy of self-government. No signs of the
Palestinian Authority are anywhere to be seen, and even the youthful
newspaper hawker Mohammed dismisses its leadership with the
breathless comment: "Arafat is a spy -- he's taking it up the ass."
The only leadership present here is medical: the tireless doctors,
nurses, ambulance drivers and emergency medical technicians who face
an endless skein of patients with an extraordinary variety of
gunshot wounds, burns and mutilations from bombs (including, most
horrifically, a dead child who innocently retrieved an Israeli bomb
left as a booby trap in a pair of boxing gloves).

At no time does "Gaza Strip" present any Israelis; aside from the
brief glimpses of military vehicles and the familiar blue-and-white
flag fluttering behind barbed wire enclosures, the Israeli people do
not exist in this film. Also absent from the film is a bit of
balanced history: while Israel took military control of the Gaza
Strip in 1967 following the Six-Day War, Egypt actually annexed the
territory in 1948 in violation of the United Nations partition of
the region and denied the Palestinian people their right to self-
determination. No mention of Egypt's illegal occupation of this area
is cited in this film.

Nonetheless, "Gaza Strip" deserves merit and attention for bringing
the message of the Palestinian people to a camera and microphone.
Nearly all of the current news coverage of the Middle East has
focused on the military and political combatants in this never-
ending conflict. By turning attention on the average people of the
Gaza Strip, this film gives a face and voice to the seething
population with a tragic and bitter story to tell. "Gaza Strip" is
the rare vehicle which gives the Palestinian people (rather than
their failed, double-talking leadership) an opportunity to speak
freely and openly, and that feat in itself makes this one of the
most important documentaries of recent times.

City Pages
Reviewed by: Peter S. Scholtes

The central figure in this riveting documentary, an illiterate
Palestinian paperboy named Mohammed Hejazi, introduces himself to
the camera in the early months of 2001. Like most young Gaza
residents, he has grown up quickly: At age 13, he is the family's
principal breadwinner. He says his father has struggled to find work
since Israel closed the borders last year, after the second uprising
began. The son admits to defying his parents and sneaking out to
chuck stones at Israeli soldiers. He imagines death as a long debate
with God over his sins of rock-throwing and stealing. He weeps over
his best friend, whom he says was shot dead while nicking copper.
Later we watch his cavalier reaction to the news, gleaned from
pictures in the paper, that Sharon has been elected prime
minister. "Egypt would fuck his father," he tells his pals. "And
then Iraq would stand up." It's a tribute to the resilient gaze of
director James Longley that you begin to care about this kid, to
understand how chaos and fear have shaped his worldview. I wonder
what has happened to him since the cameras shut off.

The Village Voice
reviewed by: J. Hoberman

Gaza Strip, a feature-length video by American filmmaker James
Longley, is a documentary to make the stones weep - as shameful as
it is scary. Longley spent three months during the spring of 2001
in Gaza. Ariel Sharon had just won the Israeli election and the
second intifada was now a fact of life.

The location is a chunk of misery: 1.2 million Palestinians penned
up in a 28-by-four-mile slice of nowhere, further diminished by
Israeli security installations and six fortified Jewish settlements.
Longley's principal subject is a 13-year-old newsboy, Mohammed
Hejazi, who is the main support of his family and whose main
recreation is playing chicken with Israeli tanks-a game at which a
number of his friends have already been killed. More than once,
Longley shows hospital ERs filled with horribly wounded children.

No future here: Gaza Strip is even more painful in the knowledge
that current conditions are worse. (Indeed, the tape was press-
screened the morning after Israel liquidated Hamas terrorist Sheik
Salah Shehada by dropping a bomb on his Gaza City apartment, killing
another 14 people-mostly children-in an operation that Sharon
moronically boasted was "one of our major successes.") Necessarily
up on current events, Mohammed and his fellow newsboys are familiar
with Sharon's particular brutishness. They naturally mock and hate
Israeli politicians, albeit with scarcely more respect for the
Palestinian Authority. "Arafat is a spy-he's taking it up the ass!"

Longley keeps his camera close to his subjects, backing off only to
document quotidian atrocities ranging from tanks shelling helpless
civilians to the bulldozing of Arab homes to the Israeli army's
sickening use of an unidentified form of convulsion-causing gas.
Made from the perspective of the
Arab on the street, Gaza Strip includes no footage of Jewish
settlers or Israeli soldiers or even Palestinian security forces.
(Nor is there any sort of historical context explaining the Arab
responsibility for how Gaza got to be what it is.) It would be
convenient to dismiss this as propaganda. But does it really matter
if someone coached young Mohammed's claim that he wants to be a
martyr or his dispassionate anticipation of his own death? "It would
be easier," the kid says, and after seeing the wretched conditions
that the movie documents, who will argue with him?

Anthology Film Archives, which is screening Gaza Strip for a week,
could evoke the full cycle of hatred, futility, and despair by
flanking this nearly unbearable movie with monitors showing the
atrocious aftermath of contemporary Palestinian suicide attacks on
Israeli civilians. To watch Gaza Strip is to watch a ticking time
bomb.

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