THE MAKING OF “TEARS OF GAZA”The dangerous journey past Gaza border and the filmmakers who wouldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer.

It started with a little boy: One night in 2008, while watching the news on television, Vibeke Løkkeberg saw a story about a boy crying after his father was killed during an Israeli bombing in Gaza. Although the international press was not allowed into Gaza, she had been able to follow the bombings on TV. Løkkeberg was shocked that the world media did not work to do a better job to cover the attacks on civilians in a densely populated region with no place for them to escape. It reminded her of the U.S. invasion of Iraq which was reported from a distance. The public was not allowed to see any war footage: the damage, violence, and victims of the attacks.

Løkkeberg decided then that she needed to break through the wall of silence by getting to know the people of Gaza and meet the victims of war. Løkkeberg felt that the population was being unfairly stigmatized as terrorists, yet these were ordinary men, women and children like her own family.

She went straight to the phone and called the director of Freedom of Expression Organization, Bente Roalsvi, who had just seen the same little boy on TV. They agreed to do something. Vibeke Løkkeberg wrote the script for her film, and one week after the attack on Gaza, The Freedom of Expression Organization funded a trip to Isreal for her and producer, Terje Kristiansen, to start the film.

The impassable border: The Israeli government did not allow them to enter Gaza. Instead they traveled to the West Bank with a Palestinian guide, and then to Egypt where they took a 6–hour taxi ride through the Sinai Desert till they arrived at Rafha on the Gaza border. As they arrived, a bomb fell very close to their taxi. Initially they thought that their car was hit. Instead, a tunnel leading into Gaza had been targeted and destroyed.

Egypt did not allow them to enter Gaza, so Løkkeberg and Kristiansen needed to find another way to tell their story. She talked to a Norwegian TV journalist stationed with the international reporters in front of Israel border to Gaza. They were covering the “Cast Lead” bombardment (the 2008 Gaza War). None of the international reporters from the world were granted permission to enter the Gaza’s strip during the attack. The journalist gave them his contacts inside Gaza including a production company that works for Reuter and many western TV stations. They were hired to work on the film.

A different kind of film: Using Internet and phone, Løkkeberg and Kristiansen explained their ideas to the crew. Løkkeberg asked them to find the boy from the TV report, and also two more children of the same age who could tell their story. She explained that the film would not be the politics of the war. Instead it would be a feature documentary that would begin by focusing on daily life of people living in Gaza during the bombardment, and how they and society functioned during the bombardment – families living in the ruins, people getting married, families visiting the graveyard of killed family members, etc. Løkkeberg wrote down questions they would ask. She told them to shoot the subjects in close–up and keep the camera running and focused on their faces. While shooting the children, Løkkeberg wanted to keep the camera at the same height as the children’s faces. And she wanted a variety of camera angels and perspectives as they shot people moving and coming in and out of rooms. Løkkeberg wanted her film shot so that the audience would identify with the children.

They shot it this way to bring viewers closer to the victims in order to show them that these are not “other people.” They want the audience to understand that the people of Gaza have the same feelings, desires and dreams as a typical family life living in the west.

The film was made over six months. The Gaza production team shot the footage, but they were not involved in the script or any of post-production. The film reflects Løkkeberg’s ideas and themes. She wanted to cater the film towards the western audience, so they would have a clear idea of what it means to be a civilian target in a war.

The children: Løkkeberg wanted to meet with the children used in the film, but Israel and Egypt did not allow her into Gaza, nor were the children allowed out.

Amira, the girl seen in the last part of the film, was the only one of the children in the movie allowed out of Gaza so she could receive medical treatment. Løkkeberg with the help of a Palestinian doctor living in Norway was able to get to know her. Both Terje Kristiansen and Vibeke Løkkeberg followed Amira back to the border of Gaza to ensure that they could see her again.

It was a very dramatic journey. Løkkeberg and Kristiansen were where almost jailed at the Egyptian airport by the police for trying to bring Amira back to Gaza, as Palestinians are not allowed to return back to Gaza. However, using their Norwegian passport, they managed to enter Egypt with her. Again, they made the six hour drive through the Sinai Desert, and with the help of a bright moon, Løkkeberg and Kristiansen got Amira over the border into Gaza. The production team waited for her on the other side of the border and filmed her return. But Løkkeberg and Kristiansen were left behind. They have not seen her since.

All the material had to be smuggled out of Gaza. In Norway, the filmmakers collected the footage from Gaza. The film was edited in Oslo by Vibeke Løkkeberg and Terje Kristiansen. Christian Scanning handled the post–production sound design. Lisa Gerard and Marcello De Francisci composed the music.

Operation Cast Lead was now documented. Most of the footage showing the bombings has not been screened on western TV. The war against the civilians would be witnessed by the world. “Tears of Gaza” was invited to screen in the Toronto International Film Festival. Løkkeberg and Kristiansen had broken through the wall and all checkpoints.