Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The next phase of Shooting Back

The videographers are publishing, they're making films about their lives. They're getting media coverage, now the project is public. If I hear more, if I see more links I'll post them here.

I hope I had something to offer them. I can't help thinking I wasted BT'selem's time and money by not getting into Gaza to run the workshops there. This is why they hired me in the first place. It wasn't my fault, of course, but I can't shake the feeling.

I received an answer from the GPO, about why my application for a press card was rejected. It seems - from what I understand, because all they did was quote their own list of requirements - that they weren't convinced I was there for legitimate journalistic purposes. Explain further, please...

So we want to tell stories, we want the filmmakers in Gaza and the West Bank to tell stories. They are monitors, witnesses, and maybe they want to be, can be more than that. They can be reporters, journalists, filmmakers, storytellers, whatever they choose to call themselves. The important thing is to put the power and responsibility back in their hands. Remember Issa saying "my camera is my weapon."

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Second remote Gaza workshop

Rif'at's film on the tunnels. He's sitting underground with the diggers, they all show their faces. He's talking directly to the camera, reporting 'from the field.' They laugh occasionally, the diggers, finding it funny that someone would be reporting from inside the tunnel, talking about them to the invisibles behind the camera.

Interview with an injured fisherman, he can't walk anymore, he sits in the corner of his room with his children in his lap.

Destruction after the war, a man described the damage done to his house. Ahmed says even animals were killed.

Testimonies about ordinary life, what about emotions? Feelings? Reactions? (maybe we need them in the videos as well)

CLIP 25: Message to the world.

These are the elements in our stories: personal introductions, coverage (visuals), interviews. Find the main subject! subject, subject, subject...

What's the main subject? If it's a family home, stay with them. Go back the next week, go back a month later.

The power in Gaza cuts. We lose video. We call Fadi on the phone, he's still there, but in the dark, they can't watch their videos any more. Put us on speaker phone - we continue the conference by telephone.

Yoav suggests smaller regular meetings, to keep the continuity of the project going. I say goodbye, hopefully next time I'll see you all in person.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Gaza Workshop - remotely

When I think about it, it still makes me angry. The GPO press card was denied, but until now, no answer. No official response. Perhaps so it can be said that no, they didn't deny it, it's just taking them longer than usual to process it. Jason says they have 45 days to approve or deny an application. but I know any successful application is done in one day. Any more, and you can forget about it.

So today, on the day when I should be in Gaza running a workshop, and filming, photographing, writing, I have to instead use a faltering internet connection to talk to a group of filmmakers and citizen journalists. It takes over an hour to set up and test the connection.

Yoav calls Palnet to order an upgrade on the line to 2mb/s, but it's still not good enough. We test the line, call Fadi and the video flickers to life. A grainy face in a white room, light bleeding on to the screen from the open door behind him.

"Can you hear me?"
"Can you see me?"

The room fills with more videographers, the images still jumping in fits as the connection cuts in and out.

Introductions take around 40 minutes, because we can only hear and see the person sitting directly in front of the laptop. It has to be passed around to each individual. Most of them have been filming for a year or two and have already made some short films, so I'm here to review their work currently and try to encourage them to get to the next level and start thinking about short, creative, personal films.

We don't need to start from the beginning. Luckily we don't need to run technical workshops on camera use - that would be impossible by internet video. No contact. They can't see my hands waving, my gestures, I can't see their faces clearly, there's little feedback, it has to be: I talk, they listen. They talk, I listen.

All interesting stories, different trajectories somehow bringing everyone together. Here. Awatif used to work for Ramattan, but she got disheartened with daily news so she joined the project. "The news doesn't fit my personality," she told me. I often feel the same way.

Variously: "My camera is my weapon."

"Sometimes we're using the media against ourselves."

The process is frustrating, every sentence has to be repeated a few times - when the line disintegrates their faces are suddenly pixelated smears still frozen on the screen.

(Is my denial to Gaza censorship?)
(Should I appeal it?)
(I'm thinking of the wrong thing. I should be thinking about them, in Gaza, not me)

The exercises are basic, from here we can't do any practical training. I can't run through camera techniques with them, or watch their footage with them. I can't have a debate about the use of media or representation of Palestinians in the news. We're trying to discuss the theory of citizen journalism, what are the reasons for making films? Is there a purpose to this? Can any of this really make a difference? Can it influence international law?

I don't think changing international law is our responsibility as filmmakers. I think our responsibility is to tell our stories, and hopefully work on individuals. Those individuals elect their Presidents and Prime Ministers, those rulers help write the laws, they have influence, they have power and money and weapons. All we have are cameras.

Abdullah: "like anyone in Gaza, I want to show our message, how we're people, we like peace, but the situation for people in Gaza is the opposite." (Film on fishermen. "They're supposed to be free but they have a wall around them.")

Ibrahim: "so the whole world can see how we live. They can see some of us living normally."

Fatma: Arab media is under dictatorships. They still have the Ministry of Information.

"In Gaza, if one hundred kids die and five soldiers are killed, the media will say 'fighters were killed'."

Suggestions: Make a film about cultural or intellectual imperialism, against globalisation?
A Palestinian kid studying in the US?
Film about the freedom to travel?
The sea?
What's missing in your country?
Who's responsible for this?

Friday, 3 July 2009

Soussia - South Hebron Hills

South Hebron Hills, farm land. Settlers surrounding Palestinian farms, and the people here don't live in houses. They have only tents, not connected to any electricity grid. This area, near Nasr's family, gets power from a wind turbine and a solar panel, no reliable power supply. (Donald MacIntyre recently wrote about them here)

I've seen a BT'selem video from here, a girl films here parents working on their land. Three settlers approach with t-shirts wrapped around their faces. One is carrying a heavy stick, and he walks quickly to the father and starts beating him. The girl panics and drops the camera. That video made it around the world, broadcast on international news stations, came to represent both the potential of the shooting back project (evidence) and the growing threat of settler extremism (violence).

A dog skips over the stones and tufts of grass that define the ground in Soussia. It's dry and rocky, no place for a farm. Look up - the roof has pieces missing, charred edges from where settlers tried to burn the place down a few weeks ago. Nasr's dog was also killed. The one outside isn't his, it must belong to someone else.

Eid, red t-shirt, one year with the BT'selem project. The camera is a weapon, he says, but it's a legitimate weapon, not forbidden, they should be afraid of the camera, not us. But some are just thugs, and they're not even afraid of the camera.

Majdi, (blue striped shirt). "The army is starting to get scared of the camera, because it gives power to the other side."

Jamal (blue eyes, check shirt) "I like anything that shows the truth of the situation."

Why do we film?
Show another image of Palestinians.
If the media was here they would see the truth.
We want to reach the people, not governments.
We need to understand who the Palestinians are (how images are used)
The true image is not present, it doesn't exist.

Issa (older man, not afraid) "the camera is my weapon. Even if your brother is being beaten by soldiers, don't put the camera down. He's not your brother any more, keep filming." If you stop to help him, he explains, you'll just be beaten too. Then you have two beaten Palestinians, and no evidence. Keep filming. Don't think of him as your brother anymore, think of him as evidence.

I'm surprised to hear this. Some of the group disagree, they say no, I have the right to defend myself, I'll do it, I'll put the camera down and do it. Issa says keep filming. Even if they fire tear gas at you, even if they try to shoot you. He tells the story of once holding the barrel of a soldier's gun with one hand, and his camera with the other hand. Keep filming.

There's no end to it. During the workshop, Nasr gets a call that a group of settlers has arrived at a nearby Palestinian farms. He disappears with Yoav and Assaf, both from BT'selem, to follow it up and make sure the situation is under control.