Three Unconventional Documentaries from Gaza

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Palestinian militants of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine prepare themselves before a military graduation ceremony in front of the media in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip 13 March 2013. (Photo: Reuters - Suhaib Salem)

By: Omar Shabaneh

Published Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Amman – Between 2008 and 2010, Palestinian filmmaker Najah Awadallah made three documentary films about marginalized women in the Gaza Strip.

The work of Awadallah, who writes her own films, is a triumph for Palestinian documentary filmmaking, with its distinct intellectual vision and compelling artistic performances.

Awadallah explores Palestinian society in Gaza from many angles. She seems obsessed with her characters’ depth and believability. The filmmaker told Al-Akhbar, “Usually, the character itself lures me. Some people have a great and exciting story, but they can’t tell it. A film requires not only a good story, but also a good narrator.”

In Awadallah’s “There Here,” she documents the lives of three foreign women – a Romanian, a Bulgarian, and a Russian – living in Gaza. The three women talk of their experiences in Gaza and their husbands in a way that weds the narrated story with the visual material. The women are attached to their environment and local traditions in what is sometimes an alien society to them.

“In this film, I was closely observing their challenges in terms of language and adapting to the country’s political, social, and cultural circumstances. I wanted to say that coexistence is possible. The three women have become part of the social fabric in Gaza,” said Awadallah.

“Brides” deals with the life of a struggling woman who married and left her parents’ home at the age of 14 only to later on start a successful business.

“I found Asmahan, or Umm Saleh, to have a strong presence, an ability to tell her story in a very powerful way. I admired her as an example of Palestinian women who struggle in the face of hardships, but are able to create something,” said Awadallah.

“The Ember Bearer” documents the struggles of Sahbaa al-Barbari, the widow of Palestinian poet Muin Bseiso.

Barbari was one of the pioneering communists in Gaza. Through her experience in Egyptian prison under Gamal Abdel Nasser in the early 1950s we discover many details about life in Palestine and Egypt. Not only does Barbari meet Bseiso in prison, but also Egyptian activists such as the painter Inji Aflatoun and the actress Mohsena Tawfik.

“Since I was a child, I used to hear from my father about the activist Sahbaa al-Barbari. When I grew up, I stopped hearing anything about her, although I would always hear about Bseiso. I was surprised to find out that she was still in Gaza. I tried for five years to get her to tell her story, but she did not want to talk about herself. She would talk about Bseiso, but not about herself,” said Awadallah.

Awadallah’s accomplishment is somewhat surprising coming from Gaza. How does the Hamas government deal with an artwork that criticizes its policies and highlights negative changes under its reign?

“Some small shots that clashed with Hamas’ social vision were not accepted and the films were not allowed to be screened until I removed these shots. And so no film can make it to any festival before it makes it through the censor’s scissors first,” she said.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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