Vibeke Løkkenberg’sTears of Gaza is a polarizing film in every sense of the word. And for good reason; it shows disturbing images of what the horrors of conflict and war do to the civilians who are caught in the middle. A majority of the footage found in the documentary is taken from real-life civilians’ cameras. While the film certainly has stirred up controversey, the message it wants to convey hits us all.
Below is an interview I had with Løkkenberg and her producer-husband Terje Kristiansen about what it was like for them to tackle this project, and how they expected to handle the controversial response the movie has been getting.
What about the story of Gaza made you want to do a documentary about it?
Terje Kristiansen: The short version is that there were two Norwegian doctors that managed to get in exactly when the war started and they started to report home by satellite phone and were saying ‘This is outrageous!’ As you remember, all the journalists were outisde of the city and they weren’t allowed to get in. So there were no real images coming out just figures, contradictory figures, so nobody could believe in anything. Vibeke said ‘This is too much. We know those two doctors.’ So when she saw clips of the boy in the film, she said ‘I want to go into Gaza and tell the story of this boy, because someone has to tell the story of how it is to be in the most crowded city in the world with a population of over fifty-percent of under eighteen years-old, and it’s completely closed like a refugee camp. What is the real daily life in this city, getting killed and bombed like this?’ That was the start of it.
You’ve got the idea for this movie. Why did you decide to do it as a documentary instead of a narrative piece?
TK: We usually do featues, but now was the time. What it important to tell a real story in real life with real people, or to stage a feature which was not real, which would come slow and so on. We decided what happens in the daily life is not as exciting, but much more important than what you can create by feature so let’s make it now as quick as possible.
What was the experience like being over there and making this movie?
TK: We were kicked out. We had to work through middle men, and it was a lot of smuggling and dialoge through middle men and secret helpers and so on and so forth. For one-and-a-half year. Vibeke has to work as a director through them, and have a team inside that could make pictures. We got pictures back, and adjusted it to and from to get this together. Then after awhile people were so eager that this film should be made, that we started to collect images from private cameras. It’s contribution from a lot of private video cameras that were actually in action positions when things happened.
Vibeke Løkkenberg: Of course, you know, this stuff would never be sent to any western television.
TK: What we discovered when the film was finished how shocked people were around the world, in any country, saying ‘we’ve never seen this before.’ And you should remember that what you see is a mild version of the stocks we have.
VL: You should the result of a drone. We have images of three women walking in the street and they are talking and then suddenly a drone hits in the middle. These drones, they’re so precise. And the one in the middle, she was turned into meat and blood. I mean at this moment, this is going on there all the time.
How do you feel making this has affected or changed your life personally?
VL: Very much. I think we made something that impressed people and really changed people and got so many people closer to us. We met so many Muslims, which they were surprised that somebody from the west could come in there and make something out of solidarity, and understand we’re not talking to them in third person.
TK: And people, which impressed me so much is that, people are so grateful for seeing the film. They say ‘Thank you for showing me the truth, because you don’t see the truth on TV.’ They tell me this also changed my life and shows that people aren’t as stupid as governments think they are. I’m very optimistic about this film because it shows that you can film anything with technology. You can film something with your iPhone or this phone, and with cameras, you can’t hide the truth anymore.
This has been generating a very controversial response. Were you both prepared to handle that or was it kind of expected?
VL: Oh we know. Yes.
TK: It’s very easy to say ‘you have to show both sides, you have to do this and that,’ but this? A person gets killed and there’s just one side; ‘I’m dead.’ So there’s no two sides to people getting bombed and so on. This is the film that has the point of view of a human being getting a bomb dropped on her head. And we don’t like it.
Tears of Gaza opens September 21st.