‘Gaza,’ ‘Three Boys of Manzanar’ shed old perspectives

Ty Davis

“Gaza” co-director Andrew McConnell (right) is interviewed by moderator and festival organizer, Scott Diffrient (left) at the ACT Film Festival April 6.

One of the ACT Film Festival’s mission statements is to highlight a different perspective of subjects that audiences are likely unfamiliar with. The second day of the festival featured two short films: “Three Boys of Manzanar” and “Gaza.”

“Three Boys of Manzanar” centers on the lives, families and current status of three boys from one of the most famous photos depicting the Japanese internment camps during World War II. Though only seven minutes long, the short film leaves a lot to consider. I was particularly struck by the film’s emphasis that these events were not as long ago as many of us think. In fact, one of the central points of the film is how all three men are still alive, and they decide to recreate the photo that became so famous.

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The film does a good job of focusing on the experiences of the men while exploring the fear they felt along with how people behaved at the time. If there is one major weakness of the film, it would be the hyperfocus on Mas Ooka — one of the men from the picture — and his daughter Akemi Ooka, who narrates most of the film. With such a limited time frame, no time is dedicated to understanding the two other men’s experiences. But overall, the film takes a unique perspective into one of the most egregious examples of human rights violations with a melancholic reflection on how much this part of history needs to be remembered.

“Gaza” is a heartbreakingly somber look into the day-to-day lives of several people in the Gaza Strip. Instead of taking an investigative approach to the subject like one would expect, directors Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell chose to focus on the human element of this conflict, which the international community does not usually see. In just 90 minutes, you get a glimpse into many different walks of life in such a small piece of land; the subjects included a refugee boy with over 20 siblings, a teenage cello player, a disabled rapper, a cab driver, a fashion designer and more.

“It’s a new way of seeing Gaza,” McConnell said. “Gaza is a place that everybody has an idea about, because everybody has heard of this place through news flashes, and they’re always related to violence and conflict. … That’s only a small part of anywhere. To tell the story best, who better than the people who live there, so we wanted to just hand it over to them and let them tell it themselves.”

The film greatly humanizes its subjects. The film goes to great lengths to give the audience a sense of who these people are, what they like, their aspirations and more importantly, an exploration of their minds and emotions. The intimate presentation made me feel as though I truly got to know and spend quality time with them.

Encore screenings: “Gaza“: Wednesday, April 10, 6:30 p.m. at The Lyric Cinema

While the filmmakers do their best to focus on the subjects separate from the conflict, the inevitable politics of their reality creeps in and refuses to go unacknowledged, whether it be in the form of restricted use of basic resources, lack of an educational system or bombings. 

The aspect most Americans will likely find shocking is the subjects’ disinterest in any ideological argument for “the holy land” or disputes over land. Most of them are just interested in being able to survive comfortably, have access to resources or just simply leave to find better opportunities. Like many of the films I have seen from the ACT Film Festival, I will not forget this one any time soon.

After the viewing, questions were opened to the audience. While most questioners thanked McConnell for the film and his appearance, one audience member challenged the film and McConnell by advocating for a “both-sides” argument. She claimed Hamas had fired rockets from one of the schools at Israeli forces during one of the conflicts shown in the film. McConnell responded with his own personal account of the events, and he said that the claim the audience member was making came from an Israeli spokesperson and had not been corroborated by a third party.

While most would expect McConnell to leave on an optimistic note, McConnell said he did not see much of a bright future for Gaza. He noted that much of the international community has seemingly abandoned it, and unless the blockade was lifted, there would not be hope anytime soon for Gaza.

Ty Davis can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or Twitter @tydavisACW.