Ambulance is a first-person documentary taken from the ground during the attacks on Gaza in the summer of 2014. Written and directed by twenty-three-year-old Mohamed Jabaly, the footage is also filmed by Jabaly as he spends over fifty days with an ambulance crew as they carry survivors from bombings to the hospital.
Jabaly accompanies paramedics as they rescue people from the collapsed buildings in Gaza to the hospital, which is no less chaotic. Large numbers of family and press are squeezed into the small hospital rooms as everyone is out to either get the footage of the consequences of the attacks, or make sure their loved ones have survived. We are shown scenes of the workers cleaning blood and bone from the ambulance interior, and then frantic, adrenaline-fuelled mercy dashes either to safety or to rescue those who, just minutes ago, were involved in an explosion.
But between scenes of the horror occurring in the city are also some rather touching scenes that give an insight into the friendship Jabaly created as he spent this time with the crew. At first the crew are clearly hesitant to have Jabaly film them, but as Jabaly says himself, he’s filming this footage as a way to give himself comfort as the city around him is destroyed, and after surviving bombings themselves, the ambulance crew and Jabaly form a bond. These scenes are intertwined with high drama as the crew leader and father figure, Abu Marzouq, is injured in an explosion.
Despite the very political themes surrounding the film, Ambulance is not political in nature. Jabaly takes a very reserved stance on the political side of the conflict and there is little mention of Israel or their policies, and the film does not reflect on the conflict as a whole. “Some people will tell you the war started for one reason,” he says, “and some will say it started for another reason”. Like the ambulance crew that he follows, Jabaly is here to do a job – politics would only get in the way. Rather, this is a film about the suffering of war. Also interesting is that Jabaly also looks at the Palestinians trying to cross the border into Egypt in an attempt to get medical treatment. This scene shows a frustratingly illogical and bureaucratic part of the conflict that is less likely to make headlines.
What makes Ambulance such a fantastic documentary, however, is the way the footage builds into something less fleeting, as it creates a wider, more thoughtful portrait of a city under siege. Ambulance is a fascinating testimonial to personal and collective resilience, and is a must-see at the film festivals.