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A documentary where the central character is a location, rather than a single person, as befitting its title, Gaza, from Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell, presents its subject in all the misery and glory of its current condition. 25 miles long and 7 miles wide, with 2 million inhabitants squeezed into a land mass mostly deprived of fresh water and consistent electricity, Gaza is, as one person in the film calls it, nothing more than an open-air prison. Under blockade by Israel because of the extremist policies of its Hamas-controlled government, the Palestinian enclave is home to a population unable to progress beyond bare subsistence. Agree with Israel’s response to Hamas or not, it’s the ordinary folks who suffer the most in any conflict between authorities. In their movie, Keane and McConnell strive to honor the basic human dignity of a people that just want to live a normal life.

Beautifully shot and masterfully edited, the film remains squarely within the confines of Gaza, the people and forces of Israeli seen only from a distance – if at all – as soldiers firing from the border wall or gunships enforcing the blockade (there is a 3-mile off-shore fishing limit). To the various Palestinians we meet, the Israelis are faceless oppressors. Still, many of them are no particular fan of Hamas, either, but what can they do? Who can resist men with guns who are determined to use them? It’s a wonder, in fact, that any peace reigns within the Gaza Strip at all.

Yet it does. From the young woman from a relatively wealthy family who dreams of modeling and playing the cello, to the taxi driver who enjoys a quiet cup of coffee by the shore, to the boy who loves going out on the sea with his older brother to catch what fish they can, to the old man whose textile business is under threat from the constant blackouts, to the Red Crescent medic who is tired of stitching the wounds of the men shot by Israeli forces for throwing rocks and burning tires at the wall, Keane and McConnell present a diverse array of cinematic participants to tell a comprehensive narrative. Their tales are moving and depressing, but also life-affirming testaments to the resilience of the human spirit.

The indelible image that remains, however, at the end, is that of the ceaseless protests of young men in front of the wall that separates them from the outside world. The black smoke from the piles of rubber tires creates a second barrier, made even more toxic by the tear gas shot from the other side. And then there are the bullets, a disproportionate response, it would seem, to rocks and rubber. I’m sure the soldiers would disagree, but how can one justify gunning down boys, or even launching rockets into the middle of residential neighborhoods? To be fair, Hamas often does the same, but the casualties always appear higher on the Palestinian side. It would be nice to have some kind of Israeli rebuttal here, just for some kind of parity, but then that might take the focus from Gaza, itself. Instead, what we have is a searing portrait of miserable beauty, hopeless and (somewhat) hopeful all at the same time. Now that’s a movie.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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