Screened as part of NZIFF 2018
The human reality of Israel’s siege of Gaza is given rare and timely airing in Stefano Savona’s captivating Samouni Road. It centres on one extended family in a village on the outskirts of Gaza City – a community ravaged by Israel in early 2009 as part of an assault remembered in Israel as Operation Cast Lead and in the Arab world as the Gaza Massacre. Twenty-nine civilians – men, women, children – lost their lives, most killed by Israeli forces as they took refuge in a house.
At the heart of it all is a child. “I don’t know how to tell a story,” Amal says, but she reveals eloquence far beyond her years. Her father, brothers and cousins were killed, and she was given up for dead, too, but miraculously hauled by aid workers from the rubble of her home several days on. Still struggling with pain from shrapnel in her head, Amal walks us to the site where the agrarian village’s totem, a 150-year-old sycamore tree, once stood – now destroyed like everything else by bombs, bullets and bulldozers.
The raid itself is recounted with evocative scratchboard animation and chillingly recreated drone footage, including an exchange in which a commander instructs a soldier to open fire on a group despite being told there are children among them. For all that the film shows political and militant groups’ efforts to use the tragedy to promote their cause, it resists any propagandising of its own, drawing on testimony from the family, from the Red Cross and UN and from the Israeli army’s own internal reports. In the words of the director, “all that we see and hear comes from cross-checked sources.” — Toby Manhire