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Samouni Road: Gaza seen through one family's tragedy

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Amal, the heroine in Stefano Savona's documentary Samouni Road, Quinzaine des Réalistaeurs 2018 Stefano Savona

Palestinian films and film-making are getting a boost this year at the Cannes Film Festival. The Palestinian ministry of culture, for the first time, has helped acquire one of the pavilions in the international village to promote their film-makers and fledgling industry. However you don't have to be Israeli or Palestinian to make films about the region, as Stefano Savona's documentary shows.


Palestinian films as well as films about Palestine or the Israel-Palestine conflict have made it to the official selection at Cannes or the Directors' Fortnight - Amos Gitai's West of Jordan - Field Diaries Revisited and Elia Suleiman's Divine Intervention and Hani Abu-Assad's Omar, for example.

After Gitai's broad-ranging and eye-opening documentary last year, the Directors' Fortnight parallel festival this year selected Italian filmmaker Stefano Savona's Samouni Road, based on a real-life drama.

Paris-based Savona began making the film in 2009, just after an Israeli drone attack destroyed part of Zeitoun village in Gaza, four years after Israel returned the formerly occupied territory to the Palestinians.

Samouni is the name of a Zeitoun family who lost more than 25 of their members in the raid - men, women and children.

Savona's film is largely based on the accounts of family members, especially Amal who was 11 years old at the time she lost her father and one of her brothers. She was lucky to survive, although she suffered head injuries caused by shrapnel.

Horror and loss

The film-maker went back a year later to shoot some more and since then spent years on getting the black-and-white etched animation right.

The use of illustration adds visual texture to the film while reinforcing the storytelling experience.

"Even the dreams and nightmares are a way of putting into cinematic sequences what Amal told me", explains Savona.

"In a way I had to build up on that first encounter to tell a broader story or maybe the same story in a broader context."

A reconstruction puts the spectator in the seat of the Israeli soldier who fires on the houses of the Samouni family mistaking wooden poles for RPGs. In the same video reconstruction the soldier refuses to carry out his colonel's order to fire when he becomes certain that the targets are civilians, women and children.

A tale of horror and loss, Savona's Samouni Road penetrates the village society, and layers his film to give a fuller picture of the people's lives and ideas.

The young men dream of getting married (one of them is poised to), to have a wife, to "be a man", and the women who cook and look after the children but otherwise are discreet, watch relatively racy and violent Hindi films.

Dream of revenge

Amal likes nature, the old sycamore tree that the Israeli attack destroyed, the family's remaining olive and almond trees, their lettuce field.

Amal is bullied by a little brother who the mother says doesn't want to marry when he grows up, he wants to avenge his father and brother's death.

"That's what happens," she says mournfully.

Savona is still in touch with the family occasionally. "Amal is studying journalism at university and is engaged," he reports. "The elder brother did get married and has a child."

Although the film is dedicated to one family of ordinary people, there's no escaping politics.

Gaza came under the control of the Hamas armed group-turned political party in 2007 and a Hamas official turns up for the funerals. A few village men in the film, say they don't understand why they were attacked. They also say that they don't like the way the officials turn up to try to make political capital out of such tragedy.