Return To Gaza
'Return To Gaza' is a moving documentary film about one man’s journey of self discovery, back to his troubled ancestral home and the dramatic events that unfold before his eyes while he is there. Fetah Sabawi is a well known Palestinian-Australian musician, former keyboardist with high profile Australian heavy rock act Superheist and now playing in Melbourne based alternative rock band Jericco. In 2006 he returned to the Middle East with his family, and a film crew was there to capture the pilgrimage.
The film has been screened and garnered awards and nominations in numerous film festivals across the globe, including taking out the prestigious Award of Excellence at the US Indie Film Fest, and the Award of Merit for a Feature Documentary at the Accolade Competition in the 'States. It finally gets its Melbourne premiere this Sunday evening at the ACMI Theatre in Federation Square, and Sabawi himself met with Beat recently to discuss the film and its debut Melbourne screening.
"In '96 I got a grant from the UNDP (United Nations Development Program)" Fetah explains, "to work on a College of the Arts in Gaza, for underprivileged refugee children. It gives them an arts scholarship. We got the school up and running, I took a break from Superheist, which I was in at the time. We set it up and we auditioned a whole heap of kids, and picked out the most talented ones.
"We got the school up and running," he recalls, "already some of the kids were touring, and doing the morning show across the Middle East... Then the second uprising happened, and we had to leave everything behind. I went back to Australia and continued with Superheist.
"Then, in 2006," he continues, "my wife hadn't seen her parents for quite a few years, and I hadn't seen my family for quite a few years. It was a relatively peaceful time, and we thought we had a good chance of getting in and seeing her parents. I wanted to suss out the situation, see if there was any chance of us being able to get the school back up, and if things were settling down, we could continue with the project and for her to see her parents.
"I knew the elections were going to be happening at the same time we were over there. They were very exciting times," he nods. "So I had the idea of, 'why not take a camera man with us, film the whole thing, and make a documentary out of the whole experience?' I met Michael Weatherhead through a mutual friend and he jumped on the idea straight away. And within a couple of weeks of me approaching him, he was on a plane to the Holy Land."
Beyond wanting to scope out the possibility of renewing the arts school, and to see family and friends again, there were further reasons for Fetah wanting to return to the area and capture it all on film. "I was exploring a couple of things," he recalls, "people had been talking about the peace process for ever, and I wanted to explore whether it was ever going to be possible to reach a peaceful solution. I wanted to bring the western viewer in, and let them see the human side of the experience, and get an idea of what it's really like. Because they hear about these things, but they don't really know much about it. So I thought, rather than bore people with a lot of politics, we would have them experience what it's like to be a Palestinian."
RETURN TO GAZA premieres this Sunday evening May 22 at The ACMI Theatre in Federation Square.