Tuesday, February 21, 2006

DEATH IN GAZA - disturbing documentary: required viewing

DEATH IN GAZA is a fascinating and provocative documentary by British film-makers James Miller and Saira Shah. They both have an impressive resume full of documentaries shot for UK and US TV from the front-line of the "Global War on Terror". Many of their documentaries have won Emmys and BAFTAs, most noticeably their 2001 film, BENEATH THE VEIL. The original idea was to make two films, one showing the life of Israeli kids, the other showing Palestinian kids. Miller and Shah wanted to stand back from absract, large-scale investigations of the politics of the Middle Eastern conflict. By focusing on the real impact of the conflict, they hoped to get nearer to the truth.

is the first of these companion pieces and shows life for kids in Palestine. The content is amazing because it picks up where the news reports end. So, behind the headlines of a car bomb and another Palestinian death, we see little kids mining the undergrowth for bits of flesh. They put these body parts into a plastic container so that they can be buried. We see the cute little kid Ahmed, so full of charm and life, playing scissor-paper-stone with a balaclava-wearing militant. In the play ground, the kids play a game called "Arab Jew". The aim is not to be the last man standing, but to be the first man dead - martyred. We see a world that is completely inverted in its logic and its morality. It is painful to recall that these are kids, just like the ones we fell in love with in MAD HOT BALLROOM. My friends and I winced when the little girls in Brooklyn spoke about their fears that all the cute boys would soon be loser dope-dealers. In Gaza, the boys are being groomed as suicide bombers. It's a whole order of magnitude more incredible, more despairing.

Sadly, there is no companion piece to this film, showing the impact of living in state of war on Israeli children. The director, James Miller, was killed by an Israeli officer during the filming of DEATH IN GAZA. You can find details of the murder here. Friends of the film-maker decided to go ahead and fashion a feature length movie from the footage despite the fact that Miller clearly planned for more. I was concerned that having an "unfinished film", without its counter-part, would make for an uneven debate. However, DEATH IN GAZA is too intelligent for that. Neither side comes out of this with much credit. From the Israeli officers in tanks firing on kids throwing stones; to the Palestinian militants who hijack the image of the murdered film-maker as a recruitment tool; to those of us who usually change the channel or turn the page when we read about yet another person getting blown up in Israel....

Right now, it is awards season, and you can walk into your local cineplex and see sanctimonious movies trying to teach you about the importance of freedom of the Press, the plight of Africa, the difficulty of dealing with terrorism, and pervasive sexual harrassment. These are all terrible things, but the movies about them say absolutely nothing that isn't superficial and a cliche. Here is a movie that does give us genuine new insight. I urge you to check it out.

DEATH IN GAZA premiered at Berlin 2004 and was shown on US and UK TV in 2004. It was not nominated for the Oscar that eventually went to BORN INTO BROTHELS. I haven't yet seen that film, but I do know that DEATH IN GAZA is better than TUPAC:RESURRECTION, which WAS nominated. Yet more grist for the mill. DEATH IN GAZA is now available on DVD.

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