Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 December 2019

'Gaza' documentary scoops film award, proceeds donated to ailing film festival

Filmmakers are now hoping to raise enough money to get the Gaza Red Carpet Human Rights Film Festival reinstated

In a heart-warming case of a tale coming full circle, a film-making team currently on the festival circuit for a documentary about Gaza have donated the proceeds of an award win to the territory's own cash-strapped film festival.

Gaza, the documentary, recently won the inaugural Pull Focus Award for best new Irish documentary at the Docs Ireland film festival, held in Belfast.

Irish directors Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell, and producer Brendan J Byrne, immediately handed over their £2,500 (Dh11,600) prize to the ailing film festival in the territory that provided the inspiration for their film.

"The decision to donate the money to the Gaza Red Carpet Human Rights Film Festival was a unanimous one that we made immediately, the morning after winning the award," Byrne told The National.

Pictures of a red carpet cutting through swathes of destroyed buildings went viral when Gaza's film festival launched in 2015, creating an exciting annual social event for the war-torn region.

But its fifth outing is now in jeopardy, festival director Khalil al-Mozayen told The National this week, because this year organisers were struggling to raise the funds to hold it.

Fady Hanona was a member of the film's production team, but missed its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival due to being stuck in Gaza. Courtesy Fay Hanona
Fady Hanona was a member of the film's production team, but missed its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival due to being stuck in Gaza. Courtesy Fay Hanona

“Conditions in Gaza are always difficult, but specifically this year, the economic crisis caused by the rift between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority is worsening day by day. Salaries are no longer paid to employees and almost all forms of support for cultural activities has stopped," he said.

Byrne said the film crew made their appeal for funds for the Gaza film festival public alongside their screening at the Docs Ireland film festival. They also launched a public fundraising campaign, in which they hoped to raise £18,500 (Dh86,000) in the next few months so the event could be reinstated. The total of funds raised currently sits at a fraction of that, at around £7,000.

"When news came through that we had won the prize money it seemed the obvious thing to do," Byrne says.

"Obviously as filmmakers we have become very passionate about Gaza and its people, and we've had such a powerful experience being there and spending time with people and recording their lives that we've made a commitment to the place and it's gone into our blood."

It was an especially poignant campaign, as Gaza no longer has a cinema of its own. Most were razed when the First Intifada began. Byrne called this "yet another infringement on human rights".

"We understand what a deficit is in humanity terms not to have a cinema, not to have more theatres, and for the people of Gaza not to be able to go and experience the truth and the reality of life as experienced through the arts, in stories from around the world.

"All being well, hopefully when we reach our target and cement the presence of the festival this year, then as a team we also will travel to Gaza for the Middle Eastern premiere of Gaza."

It's been a long ride for the Gaza team, after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

However, that trip too was impacted by the harsh realities of life for many in the stricken region, when two men involved in the film couldn't leave to get to the premiere.

Fady Hanona, a ­production manager on the film, and Ali Aby Yaseen, who features in the film, tried for months to get the necessary ­documentation and visas to accompany the film they worked on for four years. But the duo failed to break free of the very thing they’d been railing against in the new ­documentary; they couldn't get out of Gaza, due to the border between Gaza and Egypt being closed.

Updated: June 26, 2019 05:25 PM

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