Gaza is a place of limitation. Yet, once in a while, a ray of optimism (or at least escapism) breaks through the decade-long blockade.
Friday 12 May saw a 100-metre long red carpet rolled out for the annual Festival of Human Rights Films in Gaza City Port where over 40 films were shown over the weekend.
Gaza’s main port was transformed into a film fest extravaganza where thousands of residents had the chance to strut their stuff down a red carpet.
21-year-old law student Tamara Matar said the festival gave her the chance to “feel free” whilst living under Israeli blockade for a decade. “There is no cinema,” she added, “I watch films at the festival because of the blockade and the closed borders, the unemployment and the electricity crisis we have to endure.”
This year’s event coincided with the Cannes Film Festival’s 70th birthday. Gaza could never compete the glitz and glam of the notorious French film fest, but it could give its residents a touch of exoticism.
Mohammed, 27, walked down the red carpet pushing his wheelchair-bound sick father. “I want to feel like I am at Cannes,” he said.
There were no celebrity big names or sweeping ball gowns to steal the limelight away from ordinary Gazans turning out to watch the films. “The children and poor people are walking on the carpet,” said Saad al-Saworki proudly to AFP news, “they are far more important than the carpet.”
The inaugural Red Carpet Festival of Human Rights Films was organised by Palestinian director Khalil al-Muzain in 2015. The film “Ghost Hunting” by director Raed Andoni won the privilege of opening this years’ event.
Asad al-Saftawi, an activist for ‘Love of Life’, said the festival helped amend Gaza’s image to the outside world. “In Gaza young people have creativity and love of life,” said al-Satawi.
Gaza lacks the space and resources for cultural events. With no proper cinema or sports stadium (which was bombed by Israeli forces in 2006 and 2012) the youth in Gaza can be left constrained and claustrophobic in what is often called “the largest outdoor prison in the world”.