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Ambulance: A documentary by Mohamed Jabaly

A raw, first-person account of the last war in Gaza in the summer of 2014. Mohamed Jabaly, a young man from Gaza City, joins an ambulance crew as war approaches, looking for his place in a country under siege, where at times there seems to be no foreseeable future. While thousands of things are published on the recurring violence in Gaza, the stories behind them remain hidden. Not this one.

Cinema Scandinavia: Can you tell us about your film-making background?

Mohamed Jabaly: Before this documentary I was working as a film-maker and a photographer creating short films about the lifestyle and the daily life of the city of Gaza. I was also teaching young adults and kids film-making and photography. I was working within a youth organisation as a media co-ordinator.

Is there a film industry in Gaza?

Film-making is very important to the city and I believe creating films is one of the best ways to tell stories, especially with regards to war. It’s important for the people of Gaza to show others how we feel, how we live and how we show the different perspectives of life from this region. For me, most of my previous work I was focusing on the beautiful and the human side of the city. We live a normal life and we make the most of every day.

Ambulance, then, sounds like a very different style for you. How did the idea come to be?

I was working on a short film for a local hospital in Gaza which aimed to showcase their work. It was the creative connection between myself and the hospital. Once the attacks started I asked them right away if I could join the ambulance. Before that I wasn’t showing this group of ambulance workers, I was more focused on the hospital. But I had been thinking about making a documentary if attacks were to start in Gaza. I at least wanted to use my camera to document something. Every day it became more clear that I needed to follow the ambulance crew.

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There are so many different perspectives about Gaza shown in the media, yet this is perhaps the first time we’ve seen the ambulance workers on camera.

When you say ambulance workers it’s like part of society. They have a normal job and then they have their everyday lives. They don’t always work with the ambulance – during the day they’ll have a standard job helping people in different ways. When it comes to a crisis or a war situation it is more, for them, to be present and to help their community. They feel like they have to do it. It was the most important thing during those days. Everybody was talking about the ambulance workers and how important they are. They played this important role in the community. They are the best people during a crisis and I wanted to tell the truth behind everything. The ambulance staff witness everything and are always at the front of everything. They were in the front line of the bombings. They are still on the line if they need to help. They are the right people to be with and to tell a story, especially my story.

What’s interesting about the film is that it seems so many people are filming the situation. Why is that?

During the crisis there was a huge amount of video journalists working for international agencies and television stations. They had these huge cameras and would wait in front of the hospital trying to document the situation. In a way I’m curious where this footage is, where it goes. If there’s so much footage how come the people in Europe and the western world don’t understand what is happening in Gaza? They do their job as a journalist so that’s why they are there. They want to show the war in their own way.

Were people reluctant to being filmed, especially during these high pressure situations?

Of course. In the beginning it was a challenge for me being with them. I’d never been in an ambulance before I kind of have a little experience with first aid, but I wasn’t helpful in that way (laughs). I’d never been in the front of an ambulance. In the beginning the captain of the ambulance, Abu Marzouq, wasn’t sure why I was with them. They need to do their work and they were hesitant to have someone with them. The other guys, mostly they loved to be filmed. They liked being on camera and we became friends directly. Marzouq, however, was a bit of a challenge at first. In a way all of us became a big family and Marzouq is the father of the family, and we went through this experience together.

What do you hope audiences take from the documentary?

I want others to be aware of what’s happening in Gaza, at least a little bit of the message. This is what the people went through. I also want others to understand that this happens again and again. I want them to carry on what I experienced, I mean this could happen anywhere. If you look at the whole world it’s happening in different places. Also I want others to understand this is what it was like. People lived through these days in such a terrible condition.

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.