In a high-fashion jubilation, stunning necklines and trendy dresses, on Hollywood’s red carpet tool place the event many people consider the most important film event of the year: Oscar night. Millions of people watched how the prestigious golden statuettes were awarded in live streaming. It is bizarre to think that, at the same time, on the other side of the globe, in Gaza, the projector of a movie theater was turned on after 20 years, in a room made available by the Red Crescent. No red carpet or reflectors. Only a white cloth. For the modest sum of 10 shekels (just over 2 Euros), one hundred and fifty Palestinian citizens were able to enjoy the screening of the film “Oversized Coat” (2013), the work of the Palestinian director Saleh Abu Nawras.
A film that tells the story of this part of the planet from 1987 to 2011, the period of time when all the efforts for peace and the two Intifadas against Israel failed. In the hall that usually hosts traditional parties or performances, was present also Alaa Abu Qassem, a student from Gaza who had never been to a cinema before While he was enjoying this new experience, one could see conflicting emotions in his eyes.
“I am thrilled,” he said. “I was a child when all the cinemas were burned down in Gaza.” A tear seems to appear in his eyes. Memories of a childhood spent under the bombs surface in his mind. Gaza had been full of cinema in the past. Small windows onto the world, which adorned this city, a crossroads of different cultures and traditions. It was fashionable to show “pizzas” in movie theatres, with European, Asian, and Western films. Soon that paradise became a hell: cinemas were burned in 1987, when began the first Palestinian uprising. They were rebuilt to be destroyed again during the civil 1996 war.
On the buildings of the city there are still partly charred and faded posters of a cinema that used to be one of the largest ones in this region. The windows of the cinema have been broken for a long time and the façade is covered in murals that praise the struggle against Israel. Quassem does not allow the tear to run down his cheek. He shakes off these memories and asks, looking around: “Where’s popcorn?”
The situation has changed dramatically overnight. When the lights are dimmed and the audience gets quiet, someone pulls a mobile phone or a video camera out of their pocket to immortalize an event whose traces were erased by war.
“Gaza is thirsty for cinema. Depriving citizens of theaters and halls where to show films is a violation of their humanity”, says Al-Basel Attawna, a director whose films used to be shown in the cinemas which are now reduced to a pile of rubble with barred entrances. In this land, where Islamic customs have taken over, movies are watched in private, at home, on television or on DVD. But things are changing and it happens fast.
Hussam Salama who works for the company AIN, the sponsor of the event, revealed that the initiative, which had been born in January, planned on one film session per week, on Saturdays. Then a second session was added during workdays, after the company received numerous requests on social networks. The audience was fascinated by the film, yet they were not entirely satisfied. The participants asked the opportunity to watch not only Palestinian or Arab films: citizens of Gaza want to see Hollywood stars such as Tom Cruise and Sylvester Stallone. A slap in the face of the abuses perpetrated by imposing one sole culture.
Salem reminds that the content of the films has to be approved by the Interior Ministry in Hamas before they are made available for the public. It can result in some scenes being erased because they are considered “inconvenient”. “Sometimes even a kiss can be interpreted wrongly.” A large screen where to show all kinds of films is still a utopia in Gaza.