The 8th UCDVO Development Film Series began on the 27th January and will continue until February 2020. The series includes 5 high-quality feature documentary films on subjects relating to global justice and development issues. The event’s highlight is that each screening is followed by a guest speaker with an opportunity for an open discussion. This takes place over 5 consecutive Monday evenings.
The series began with the screening of Gaza. This angry and heartfelt documentary truly captures the sense of ordinary life. As quoted by the taxi driver in the documentary, “Most of the people here are ordinary people like me. They just want to be left alone to live their lives. They just want to take care of their families and educate their children.”
The opening credits give a geographical and a brief history of the narrow strip of Mediterranean coastline bordered by Israel and Egypt that is home to nearly 2 million Palestinians. The Islamic resistance movement Hamas came to power over the course of three elections and has been governing Gaza since 2007. Since then, Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza, completely sealing its borders. The film was shot during the Israeli war in 2014 and the border protests in 2018. Gaza, directed by Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell, received a complex reaction in some quarters when it premiered at Sundance in 2019. Some criticize that it only fleetingly mentions Hamas, while others found it to be manipulative.It is important to ponder the reason behind why an immobile child is shown with her eyes closed and the audience is encouraged to think she is dead but in a later scene, she opens her eyes.
However, Gaza definitely tries to avoid direct political engagement. The film shows ordinary people courageously going on with their lives despite living in some of the most challenging conditions in the world. A young woman practises the cello, a young man records rap tracks, a theatre director rehearses a performance piece, a fisherman broods over the oppression of his industry – they are not allowed to fish more than three miles out, and the amount of fish that can be caught so close to shore is pitifully meagre. The film also showcases Deir Al- Balah, Gaza’s smallest refugee camp which hosts about 21,000 refugees who fled from villages in central and southern Palestine as a consequence of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. This is where the audience is introduced to the largest family in Gaza where Ahmed Abu Alqoraan and his 13 brothers and 23 sisters live.
The film is a striking piece of film-making. Beautifully shot by McConnell as he manages to capture stunning images that draw out the characters we are introduced to during the film. The images are powerful enough to set forth the mood and intent. Unfortunately, the intrusive score tips the film more so towards manipulation rather than observation. I didn’t want the background score to direct me to think or feel in a particular way, I wanted to feel this emotion myself from the scenes that were unfolding.
Watch the trailer here
Push documents UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, as she travels the world in an attempt to figure out the reason behind the housing crisis. The documentary rightly explores why housing is considered to be a market instead of a fundamental human right. Push offers a worldwide wake-up call as it examines the rapidly shifting patterns in the “financialisation” of housing. This crisis, as the film suggests, goes behind gentrification and the concept of financialisation was an eyeopener to me! Private equity firms are now the biggest landlords and houses are considered to be the assets. As prices go up while income stays the same, people are being pushed out of their homes and governments don’t seem to do anything about it. This has become a worldwide phenomenon, which has been particularly evident in Ireland over the last number of years.
“You know it’s time to move out of your neighbourhood when vintage shops open, poor people start to dress well (…) prices go up and you get the push.“
Director Frederick Gretten follows Farha through her investigation that takes her to an interconnected pattern of hidden capital with networks in Toronto, Barcelona, Seoul, Berlin, London and other cities revealing just the tip of the iceberg. Her investigation further discloses the process in which affordable housing becomes a token for hedge funds, investors and criminal networks to increase their profits while driving out ordinary citizens. The familiar sight of empty condos, homes and apartments, owned by anonymous foreign buyers who never set a toe in their luxury homes, paints the cities nothing less than ghost towns.
Farha, alongside the United Cities Local Government and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, started the new worldwide movement The Shift to ‘reclaim and realize the fundamental right to housing – to move away from housing as a place to park excess capital, to housing as a place to live in dignity, to raise families and participate in community’. Gertten’s film captures the community spirit that endures and gives life to the cities. Push is ultimately an empowering story of resistance and the question the film poses is, “ Who are cities for ?”
Watch the trailer here
Is the world listening? Are we getting used to documentaries based on Syrian war? Have those stories that seem to plead with the world fallen on deaf ears or has the world decided to look in the other direction? Despite these questions clouding my mind often, For Sama may be the most powerful plea yet. Syrian filmmaker Waad al-Kateb began a video diary to keep record of events when nobody knew what it was like to live in Aleppo, Syria. Caught between the Assad regime and the Islamic state, every day seems like a new chapter in the lives of Syrians. This documentary that captures al-Kateb’s life through five years is a human story with no propaganda in sight. It’s a simple appeal from people who bravely stayed behind to fight against the atrocities.
In collaboration with British filmmaker Edward Watts, Waad al-Kateb tells us the most compelling story of how this conflict negates everyday life. The documentary is named after Waad’s daughter, Sama (Arabic for Sky). Through assembled extracts of her video diary, For Sama captures moments of loss, laughter and survival as Waad has to decide between fleeing Aleppo to protect the ones she loves or staying in the city. Scenes where the new mother struggles to put her baby to sleep and dialogues like, “Lots of airstrikes today…but they didn’t hit us” when she talks to her baby is a sign that we have been silent spectators for far too long. The unforgettable moments come through at every other scene – the tense nighttime drive to get through a regime checkpoint, the time when Assad’s forces are just one street away and the Caesarean section to remove a baby from its wounded mother’s womb may probably be the most miraculous and intimate scenes. The most dramatic scenes unfold inside hospitals as the documentary shows how they are being systematically blown up one after another. In 2016, airstrikes by Russian and Syrian government forces destroyed eight out of nine hospitals in rebel-held East Aleppo.
The normalisation of conflict to this level is clearly depicted in this documentary. In my opinion, For Sama that recently won a BAFTA and was nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars this year is a must-watch.
Watch the trailer here
Photos from Twitter
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