'Gaza Surf Club'

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Au­di­ences ev­ery­where will be em­brac­ing "Gaza Surf Club," an in­spir­ing, warm­hearted look at a group of re­silient spir­its who find a way to in­dulge their pas­sion for surf­ing while liv­ing in the Gaza Strip, one of the world's most bat­tlescarred lo­cales. Di­rec­tors Philip Gnadt and Mickey Yamine fo­cus most on two peo­ple: a 23-year-old man dream­ing of train­ing in Hawaii, and a teenage girl whose jour­ney to adult­hood means hav­ing to give up life in the waves. While all the ex­pected surfer pic shots are in­cluded, this isn't a doc­u­men­tary for the usual afi­ciona­dos but a spir­ited and mov­ing pro­file of an in­for­mal, in­de­pen­dent group find­ing es­cape via that most free-spir­ited of sports. The film's re­lease in Ger­many in early 2017 is likely to pre­fig­ure a wider in­ter­na­tional roll­out.

Stran­gled by Is­rael and ruled by the fun­da­men­tal­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion Ha­mas, the Gaza Strip has be­come an em­bod­i­ment of mis­ery, its tightly-packed pop­u­la­tion trapped be­tween re­lent­less Is­raeli as­saults and a strictly con­trolled seafront. It's not a place one ex­pects to find surfers, but for years a group of men and some girls - have looked to rid­ing the waves as their only form of men­tal es­cape. Us­ing rough, home­made boards and pre­cious pro­fes­sional ones brought in by groups such as Surf­ing 4 Peace, th­ese de­ter­mined non­con­formists find re­lief from the hope­less­ness of their sit­u­a­tion in the Mediter­ranean's waves.

Ibrahim Arafat, 23 at the film's end, would fit in any­where that fel­low board-wor­ship­pers con­gre­gate. Men­tored by Matthew Olsen, an Amer­i­can who helped con­nect the Gaza surfers to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity through his or­ga­ni­za­tion Ex­plore Corps, Ibrahim re­sists fam­ily pres­sure to be­come a fish­er­man, in­stead dream­ing of go­ing to Hawaii to in­tern with board mak­ers. Visas how­ever are ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to come by for Pales­tini­ans in the Gaza Strip, and he's al­ready been re­jected five times.

Sabah Abu Ghanem, 15, faces a dif­fer­ent prob­lem. Be­fore pu­berty, her fa­ther, Ra­jab, taught her to surf, and she adored the feel­ing of free­dom. But Ha­mas en­forces a con­ser­va­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam, and now that she wears a hi­jab, she can only look long­ingly at the sea since even bathing can be con­sid­ered im­mod­est. Trapped not only by pol­i­tics but re­li­gion as well, Sabah em­bod­ies the frus­tra­tion of dreams by the regime's rigid ap­pli­ca­tion of fun­da­men­tal­ist con­straints. For Ibrahim at least, good news breaks through the clouds of op­pres­sion, and his visa ap­pli­ca­tion is ac­cepted. It's a thrilling mo­ment, with the di­rec­tors fol­low­ing him on his jour­ney from bombed-out lots and con­stant un­cer­tainty to the surf­ing par­adise of Hawaii, which un­sur­pris­ingly leads to a high de­gree of cul­ture shock that the doc­u­men­tary only briefly touches upon. What has hap­pened since the cam­eras stopped rolling is left de­lib­er­ately hang­ing in the air, and there are sure to be scads of Google hits as view­ers try to learn more about Ibrahim and Sabah. The film's widescreen vi­su­als nicely cap­ture the thrill of the waves and the sense of the beach as a haven from the prison-like ex­is­tence that char­ac­ter­izes the Gaza Strip.

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