'Gaza' premiere set to shake up TIFF

Anti-war doc offers first-hand account of Gaza bombings

Anti-war documentaries are a popular staple of the festival circuit, but few will be as emotionally devastating, or controversial, as "Tears of Gaza," which has its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival today.

Norwegian director Vibeke Lokkeberg, with her unvarnished, first-hand account of Palestinian children killed or maimed during the Israeli military's bombing of Gaza in 2008 and 2009, will have it no other way.

"We need to bring reality of war to the screen," she said of the English and Arabic-language documentary from Nero Media that shuttles between footage of bombs dropping on screaming children as they run for cover, and the aftermath on the streets and in the hospitals of Gaza.

Løkkeberg concedes modern-day cinema-goers, used to virtual dream world of Hollywood movies, may shrink at her anti-war movie.

"People don't want to feel pain, to feel overwhelmed, to lose control of their emotions," she said. "They want to be entertained."

But Lokkeberg considers "Tears of Gaza" a necessary wake-up call for cinema audiences.

"People need to be in touch with the real world," she said.

In "Tears of Gaza" The Norwegian filmmaker, who started out as a European runway model during the 1960s before taking up acting and next a movie camera, follows three children and their families for five months after the Gaza campaign to capture their grief over lost family members and confusion over war itself.

Lokkeberg knows worldwide audiences have seen 24/7 news channel footage of last year's Israeli bombing of Gaza, and the briefest of snippets of bloodied and injured children treated in hospitals.

So she goes further, offering a fuller documentary portrait of the Palestinian children, amid their ruined homes and lives.

"You are there as the bombs fall. You are there in the streets," the filmmaker recounts.

The film's more disturbing moments include long shots of severely injured children being treated in hospitals by harried doctors, or ferried to morgues amid grieving and angry relatives.

That heart-wrenching footage is inter-cut with close-up shots of the film's three subject children, without fathers, money, food, water or electricity, stepping through bombed out homes and neighborhoods.

Scenes in the film often retain their time codes on the screen to guard against accusations that the filmmakers manipulated footage from interviews for propaganda purposes, for example.

Lokkeberg accepts she's pushed way past the bounds of objectivity and detachment often urged on documentary makers, and without regret.

"I'm a woman and a mother," she said. "And I realize that my children are not safe in this world when events like this occur."

"Tears of Gaza," which was posted in Los Angeles, has music composed by Lisa Gerrard ("Gladiator"), and is bowing in Toronto after sneak previews in Gaza and elsewhere, and a tour of the festival circuit, including Amsterdam and Berlin.

A special screening is also planned for Tel Aviv in October.

All territories outside of Norway are available for the documentary, via international sales agent AB Svensk Filmindustri.

"Tears of Gaza" producer Terje Kristiansen, sharing Lokkeberg's fearless determination, offered a dare to international film buyers to acquire and screen this demanding documentary.

"Who has the guts to buy this film, and who has the guts to show it?" he questioned.

"Tears of Gaza" will debut tonight with a public screening, with two additional public screenings later in the festival.
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