Before the American Civil War began, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman once remarked specifically to Professor David F. Boyd, but addressing the entire South, “You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Years later, Sherman famously addressed the graduating class of a military academy with, “War is Hell!” While soldiers appreciate this description on a unique level, civilians caught in war zones understand it even better. Vibeke Løkkeberg’s documentary Tears of Gaza attempts to share how the hellish reality of war takes its toll on a civilian population, presenting the horror through the experiences of children in Gaza, during the sustained Israeli attack at the end of 2008. Writer and director Vibeke Løkkeberg walked Working Author through her experiences making the film.
“It started by two doctors who went into the closed war of Gaza,” Løkkeberg explains. “No journalists came in; they were just staying on the border. We saw some images they put on their phone and they were of what happens inside the hospital. And I was very much shocked. All the journalists staying outside could not make any report. And then I decided when I saw a very small boy talking of how it felt losing his father and brothers and the house was bombed, I felt ‘My God, this could be my child.’ I want to go there and tell the story of him, because I knew people are so stigmatized by the war on terror – they’re terrorists. And this time they were collectively punished because they have made the wrong vote on Hamas. But as you know, women and children they have no voice. When the war starts, they have just to receive the bombs and the guys out shooting…. I felt like we have to have the voice of the victims through that wall in Gaza.” Løkkeberg arrived at the Gaza border just as the war ended, but Israel refused to let her and her team through.
So she had to get creative. Networking with reporters who were also locked out of the area, Løkkeberg got in contact with a camera crew already in Gaza and who were experienced with filming for Western outlets. “It took one and a half years to make this film…. Then I asked (the cameramen) to send me footage of the war, and it was much worse than I thought,” Løkkeberg says. “So what we went through was horrible. I had to select (footage) which (audiences) can’t take, even if (the final cut is hard to take), it’s not as hard as what is left (out).” Tears of Gaza is full of some of the most unsettling images in recent film history. It’s one thing to watch a Hollywood war movie and be shocked at the gore. It’s entirely another thing to see a real human with an arm blown off or a leg reduced to hamburger.
When pressed, Løkkeberg reluctantly describes some of the footage that was left on the cutting room floor. “I can give you an example: We see three women going along the street, chatting, laughing. We hear the drone, but the drones are there all the time so nobody will think ‘it will hit me.’ Suddenly, it hits the one in the middle because you can see a (finger)nail from (the drone camera); it can be so precise. And in the moment I saw the picture, she was deformed to a piece of meat and blood…. Then comes a car, dragging this piece of meat along the street, lifting it, taking it in the car. It is things you never forget…. It will stay there forever.
“That will darken your soul, because it goes from being a human…you can’t see that it has been a human; it’s just flesh. That’s the border (of what) I can show you. My God, I can remember now that we’re talking about it, you could see the whole head was shot off…. You know this happens, but we don’t want to really visualize it…. But if we saw more of this, we would go against wars. We would go against the weapon industry. We would go against Obama who is now dealing with Israel just for power. He got the Nobel Peace Prize from Oslo and if he knew he was going into all these drones and escalating like he had done, he should never have received it. He should say, ‘No, I would disappoint.’ But because (he) wants all the glory and the glamour (he says) ‘Thank you”. And (he embarrasses) the people who gave it to (him).”
Having lived with ongoing wars in the Middle East for roughly a decade, there’s a possibility that American audiences might be too fatigued to respond well to a film that presents war at such visceral levels. Løkkeberg shrugs off the notion, citing the positive reviews coming from mainstream American publications, before asking, “How can I know? Probably, there will be a discussion if it will reach that level. Otherwise they can just suppress it and not talk about it in the major papers. The usual thing they do is they don’t see it.”