Still Alive in Gaza -- Film Review

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War is hell for everyone, especially for kids. That's been the message of countless documentaries over the decades, and "Still Alive in Gaza" is the latest addition to the roster. A glimpse into the plight of those trying to get by in what director Nicolas Wadimoff has called "the world's largest prison," it's a professionally executed work of obvious interest for documentary festivals and those specializing in humanitarian matters. But while there's much to like about the film's calmly observational take on highly emotive material, the results are essentially small-screen fare -- indeed, the project was commissioned by the Al-Jazeera Children's Channel.

It's not surprising that veteran Swiss documentarian Wadimoff should show particular interest in the youngest, most innocent victims of the Gaza situation. But thankfully this is no mere parade of winsome, traumatized moppets: a wide range of age groups are represented, providing eyewitness testimony about Israel's bombardment of the disputed territory. Some voice the residents' despair -- "All is lost. Nothing's left. Cope as best you can." -- but most express hardy stoicism and fierce resistance.

The latter is most vividly conveyed by Gaza City hip-hop outfit DARG Team, whose upcoming album gives the movie its defiant title (the original Arabic "Aisheen" translating as simply "Still Alive.") "Stone by stone, we will rebuild," they rap, 'blood is the price for people's freedom.'

In the most effective sequence, we visit a run-down zoo where a teenage keeper delights in provoking a hot-tempered monkey named "Sharon," after former Israeli leader Ariel Sharon. In this scene, as in the rest of the picture, Wadimoff presents his material without narration or interpretation (and, in a welcome break from current documentary fashions, without musical accompaniment) allowing us to draw our own conclusions.

Necessarily and perhaps unavoidably one-sided in its sober, occasionally lyrical contribution to an ever-turbulent debate, "Still Alive in Gaza" (crisply transferred from DV to 35mm) doesn't try to push any boundaries in terms of form or content. But it boasts a you-are-there immediacy -- with missiles at one point landing a couple of hundred yards from the cameras -- that's both engaging and illuminating.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival -- Forum
Director: Nicolas Wadimoff.
Producer: Mahmoud Bouneb.
Co-producer: Nicolas Wadimoff.
Executive producer: Faycal Hassairi.
Director of photography: Frank Rabel.
Music: DARG Team.
Editor: Karine Sudan.
Production: Akka Films, Carouge (Switzerland), JCC Al Jazeera Children's Channel, Doha (Qatar)
Sales: Point du Jour, Paris.
No rating, 88 minutes.
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