Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I know I know. You hate me. Once again, I'm relieving myself of reviewing duties for the day. But know that tis is only because I am extremely busy, building a better Scriptshadow for tomorrow, and more importantly, building a better world. I will be back to regular reporting duties Thursday at 12:01 AM with my review of Father Of Invention, a spec that sold with Kevin Spacey attached and that will be produced by his Triggerstreet Productions. As for today's guest reviewer, you might recognize him as one of our most trusted and insightful commenters, Martin B. It was my idea to give him a shot at reviewing a script because I just really respect his opinion (probably because he always agrees with me). Anyway, the script he's reviewing is a script that comes highly recommended by a very trusted source. He's recommended about five scripts to me and I've liked all of them. So I'm letting Martin loose to decide if it's 6 for 6 with ...Gaza.

Genre: Drama, Human Interest.
Premise: A British mother goes to Gaza where her journalist daughter has been shot dead while reporting on the Fatah-Hamas conflict. There she must cope with a different culture and a different people, and a political game with very different rules, as she attempts to claim her daughter's body.
About: Helen Mirren was attached, according to a 2007 report. Filming was initially to take place in Gaza, but switched to Jordan when Gaza became too dangerous. Since then there's been no news, but it might be IMDb's Untitled Helen Mirren Project of 2011. Frank Deasy (the writer), an Irishman living in Scotland, is listed by his agent as a playwright who also writes for television (for which he's received an Emmy)and movies. He tackles difficult subjects -- racism in Britain, depression, love in prison, abuse in children's homes, a boxing alcoholic's bio, rats invading Manhattan. Now he's tackling the Middle East, but as you might expect from a playwright, it's a character study rather than a political movie.The first draft of GAZA just managed to make the 2008 Black List with 5 votes.
Writer: Frank Deasy
Details: 105 pages, Third Draft dated 29/04/09

The story of Gaza concerns Ruth. She is a cancer specialist in London, living a disciplined and emotionally rigid life. Her late husband Simon has been dead for a year. Her television journalist daughter Joanna is on assignment in Gaza. They don't talk much.

While Ruth examines the scans of a child's tumor as objectively as she can, Joanna crouches in a car in Gaza frantically trying to contact Fatima, a prostitute. Nearby, Fatah and Hamas militiamen exchange gunfire. Joanna's cameraman and driver, Sayed, films the action.

It is October 2007. Hamas has won the Palestinian elections of January 2006, but corrupt Fatah, in power since the Oslo Accords of 1993 with the backing of Israel and the West, refuses to hand over power in Gaza. So Hamas, the fundamentalist extremists, the 'bearded ones,' branded as terrorists because of their rocket attacks on Israel, must fight to assume the positions they were elected to.

The Fatah strongman and biggest gangster in Gaza, Majed Khazi, drives up to Joanna and Sayed. His men have fancy new weapons, obtained with the connivance of Israel. He comments on Joanna's new hairstyle. This is significant because, as we learn later, Joanna cultivated prostitutes as informants and met them at a hairdressing salon. Most of the Gaza prostitutes are controlled by the same Majed Khazi.

Worried, Joanna and Sayed drive through the fighting to the salon. During the drive we learn that Joanna and Sayed are in love. As they arrive, the salon blows up. Fatima cannot be found. Joanna does a 'stand upper' in front of the bombed salon and is shot while on camera. She dies later in hospital, next to Fatima who lies there with a single bullet wound in her forehead.

This sets the scene.

In London, Ruth learns of her daughter's death. She hesitates. "I can't do anything without the facts." She will learn, in Gaza the facts are forever changing.

She decides to bring Joanna's body back to England for burial, but in Israel learns a shocking truth -- Joanna and Sayed were married, and Sayed is the legal next of kin and wants to bury Joanna in Gaza. She cannot believe that her daughter would marry without telling her, and marry a Muslim (Ruth is a non-practicing Jew). What does this say about her as a mother?

Assisted by Ariel, an Israeli with a secret agenda, she travels to the Erez crossing point. She sees an old folks' home nearby which has been struck by a Hamas rocket. She crosses into Gaza. There she meets Sayed, and the battle for Joanna's body begins.

In the meantime Raja, a senior Hamas commander and friend of Sayed's sister Hanan, siezes Sayed's camera and tape. He says he doesn't want to project a bad image of Gaza and frighten off journalists, but it is clear he has hidden reasons for being interested in the tape.

Sayed and Ruth have many arguments during which each party displays a great deal of prejudice, ignorance and ill-feeling. Eventually, a depressed Sayed concedes defeat, saying Joanna's heart will always be in Gaza, and Ruth sets off with the body for the Erez border post. But nothing is this easy in Gaza.

On the way to the border they are caught in an Israeli military action, a reprisal for the rocket attack. Ruth sees how dwellings are destroyed by Merkava tanks, and civilians mowed down by machine guns. An Arab boy, Khalid, is shot near her. She stanches the wound and rushes him to hospital, where she assists the handsome Dr. Nazeem as he operates on Khalid. There is a definite spark between her and London-trained Nazeem, and the boy Khalid brings out in her a compassion she forgot she had.

Meanwhile, Ruth has become suspicious of Ariel, her Israeli contact. She deduces that Joanna sent vital information concerning Raja or Khazi via email before she died, and Ariel is somehow implicated. What she doesn't realise is she herself is unwittingly feeding him information.

Ruth gets sucked deeper into events in Gaza. As a single woman with no family she must rely on Sayed and his family and Dr. Nazeem for help. The more contact she has with them, the more she learns that Palestinians are ordinary human beings with hopes and fears, many of them with a refugee background similar to her parents who had fled from Nazi Germany. And she also learns that there's more to life than interpreting images on a screen. Sometimes you have to put your body on the line to help the ones you love.

But she is also a pawn in a larger game that she cannot influence. Matters between Raja of Hamas and Khazi of Fatah come to a brutal conclusion dictated by realpolitik. Ruth realises she cannot bear witness to what she knows because Israel has learned it must "control the narrative" and ensure its own version of events is the accepted one.

All she can do is try to help Sayed, the man she comes to accept as a son in law. And bitterly say, when asked who was to blame for her daughter's death, "Someone without a face, without a name -- men with power, men with agendas, someone in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or Damascus, or Cairo -- someone in Washington or London. Someone who’s interests are served by murder and war."

I thought this was a very human, very compelling drama. It's a powerful and complex narrative with no comic relief. It brings to the screen a neglected and little-known region. Previously the West Bank got most of the press attention regarding Palestinians. Despite its universal theme of a mother dealing with the death of a daughter, it is too serious and deals with a region too remote to gain a large audience. Personally I thought it was impressive, but if the region doesn't interest you it would still be worth the read.

Some background: The Gaza Strip is tiny; 40 km long and 12 km at its widest. It has a history going back 5,000 years when it was known as the land of Canaan. It has been ruled by Egyptians, Philistines, Persians, Alexander the Great, Imperial Rome, the Caliphates, the Crusaders, Saladin, Mongols, Egyptian Mamluks, Turkish Ottomans, Napoleon (briefly), Egypt, Ottomans again, and it became a British mandate after WWI. It was assigned to an Arab state by the 1947 U.N. partition plan, but administered by Egypt after the 1948 Arab-Israel war. Israel took over the administration after the 1967 Six Day War. (Thanks, Wikipedia.)

When talking about the Middle East, there is always the question of bias. According to my background reading, the portrayal of the situation in Gaza is pretty accurate. One notable omission is suicide bombers. They are not mentioned at all, despite the fact that most suicide bombers come from Gaza. (In the first draft, Dr. Nazeem's son is a suicide bomber. In the third draft he launches Hamas' rockets.) So Frank Deasy is writing with a typical liberal bias, castigating Western and Middle East governments without whitewashing the nasty nature of the Hamas and Fatah militias, and without offering any solution.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: It's all about people. You can tackle the toughest and most controversial topics if you focus on the people and the choices they are forced to make. If you can convey people's hopes and dreams, and show how they are affected by events, you can humanize a situation. Speeches, history lessons, armies and war; a mother's concern for her child trumps them all.