Film festival gives Gazans a rare taste of cinema

GAZA, Oct 17 (Reuters) – Film buffs in the Gaza Strip, who for decades were denied going to the cinema due to the destruction of cinemas during the unrest in the enclave, are enjoying a rare chance to see a list of movies on the big screen.

Cinema once flourished in Gaza, with audiences flocking to see Arab, Western and Asian films, but movie theaters were burned down during the first Intifada in 1987 and then burned down again in 1996 during another wave of internal violence.

Since then, Gazans have had to rely on television and online streaming services and the ability to see movies on the big screen provided a rare treat for people living under a border blockade imposed by Israeli and Egyptian neighbors.

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The Red Carpet Human Rights Film Festival, which opened on Thursday, screens some 40 films at a newly renovated cultural center, around half of which deal with the decades-long conflict with Israel and the rest deals with human rights issues around the world.

While Gazans have been able to attend film screenings that take place from time to time in theaters and other venues, such an extensive film list is a rare treat.

The festival’s executive director, Montaser Al-Sabe, said he was proud of the festival in Gaza but hoped cinemas would reopen.

“We have cinemas in Gaza that are closed, open them,” he said.

Around 300 films from 60 countries were submitted before organizers made their selection, which included films from four young local filmmakers who had the rare opportunity to show their work to local audiences.

All films had to be reviewed before being screened by local authorities in Gaza, which has been controlled by the militant group Hamas since 2007.

Among the films shown was ‘Eleven Days in May’, co-directed by Gaza filmmaker Mohammed Sawwaf and British director Michael Winterbottom, which tells the story of 66 children killed in the 11-day war between Israel and militants in Gaza in May 2021.

“We focused on their fond memories, their jokes and their dreams,” Sawwaf said. “Cinema is a civilized and important way to bring the voice of the children and residents of Gaza to the world.”

He said the film was narrated by Hollywood actress, Kate Winslet, who starred in the world famous film Titanic, and music by Max Richter.

But for some, the festival will come down to the simple pleasure of going to the cinema and watching a film with loved ones.

“Outside of Gaza, I had waited in line and bought a ticket. I hope I will have the same experience here in the Gaza Strip and can take my little family and watch a movie in the cinema together,” said said Amira Hamdan, who was there with her husband.

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Written by Nidal Almughrabi Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Nidal Al Mughrabi

Thomson Reuters

A senior correspondent with nearly 25 years of experience covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including several wars and the signing of the historic first peace agreement between the two sides.

Gerald R. Schneider