World, Culture, Middle East

Dormant Gaza cinema scene stirred by first feature film

Gaza filmmakers give locals first taste of cinema in 30 years with screening of first new feature-length drama

Dormant Gaza cinema scene stirred by first feature film

By Kaamil Ahmed

GAZA CITY, Palestine

No one pays any attention to the al-Nasr cinema in Gaza City anymore.

It stands out on the city's main thoroughfare as testament to a time when Gaza was flush with cinemas, even if now no one so much as glances upwards as they rush past.

Hints of the building's Art Deco-inspired former glory remain, from when Gaza was controlled by Egypt and Egyptian cinema flourished, but are hidden behind overgrown trees and a bricked-up entrance.

In the shade of the cinema's portico, a weather-beaten white car is parked where the ticket office might have once stood.

Over the decades, the handful of cinemas that populated each of the enclave's cities were bricked up or burnt out as Gaza was overtaken by conflict and a more hostile mentality to cinema.

Filmmaking in Gaza has also suffered -- until Saturday, when a group of filmmakers screened 10 Years, the first feature-length drama made in the blockaded enclave for more than a decade.

"In 1944, Gaza had cinema. Today, we're in 2017 and don't have any cinema," the film's Director, Alaa al-Aloul, told Anadolu Agency.

The film, a portrait of Gazan society, has tried to end the stagnation. Coming in the tenth year of the Israel and Egyptian-imposed blockade of the coastal enclave, many have assumed that would be the film's subject.

"People ask why 10 Years? A lot of people assume it's about the blockade or the political split but we've kept away from this subject," Aloul said.

"But despite the blockade not being the subject of our film, the blockade prolonged the film, in one way or another," he said,

explaining how closed borders made it hard to bring in equipment they needed and an electricity crisis that limits power to four hours a day interfered with the 10-month production.

The build-up to the film has been subdued but exciting for those informed -- a shop a few meters up from the derelict al-Nasr cinema displays 10 Years' glossy poster and Gaza oldest institution,

al–Samer cinema, was reopened for the premiere on Saturday night after decades closed.

They plan to show the film, which was funded by Gazans and without any money from the government or NGOs, throughout Eid al-Adha, the upcoming major Muslim festival.

"The film is about life in Gaza. We have joy, we have happiness, we have trust in society.

We're not a people who just have war. No, it's the opposite," Ismail Dahlan, 40, one of the film's main actors, told Anadolu Agency.  

Aloul said it is hard to assess the state of Gaza cinema because the culture of watching films, let alone making them, has died away.

"There isn't cinema, there isn't a 'condition' for the cinema scene. The role for cinema is closed. 1996 was the last screening in the Gaza Strip," Aloul said.

"There aren't films that come from outside, there aren't productions from inside."

The plan to reopen cinemas to screen the film has been supported by Hamas authorities, whose rule over the Gaza Strip has been challenged by the Palestinian Authority,

Israel and most of the international community since 2007. Even after a 10-year blockade,

morale in the strip has been low in recent months because of the electricity shortages enforced by the occupied West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Aloul said it is important to revive the cinema culture, not just for entertainment but because it connects Gaza and Palestinians to the outside world.

"Today, the language of the image is the language the world speaks."

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