September 25, 2022
Ahenfo Radio Denmark

Michael Winterbottom: ‘This is a film we made for people in Gaza’

Eleven Days in May, co-directed by the British filmmaker and Mohammed Sawwaf in Gaza, focuses on the children who died in last year’s war.

A boy who adored Sergio Ramos and all things Real Madrid. A girl who wanted to become a journalist. A seven-year-old who had a brain condition and loved to eat tomatoes with every meal. A toddler who never grew tired of playing hide and seek behind a door. A seven-month-old boy who had just learned how to crawl and was showered in kisses by his siblings.

These are some of the 67 children who were killed in Israel’s 11-day bombing campaign on Gaza last May.

Some suffered violent deaths in their sleep, others were killed while at home or in their neighbourhoods as they played or ran simple errands.

The conflict erupted as tensions over occupied East Jerusalem boiled over. Israel claimed it was intending to damage Hamas’s military abilities, but rights groups and several governments were alarmed by the growing number of child casualties in the conflict – the overwhelming majority of whom were Palestinian.

After watching news of the attacks from Britain, Michael Winterbottom, a celebrated director, decided to make a film remembering these young victims – and so he linked up with Mohammed Sawwaf, a Palestinian filmmaker on the ground.

Sawwaf sent about 100 hours of footage to Winterbottom, who edited the documentary, narrated by Kate Winslet, in a dark cutting room in London.

For about 80 minutes, the audience witnesses mere moments of lifetime pains.

Siblings, some so young that they will soon lose vivid memories of their killed brothers or sisters, shuffle nervously as they speak about their bereavement. Mothers and fathers put on brave faces in front of their surviving children, but break into tears when filmed alone. Keepsakes are carefully laid out in front of the camera – a Star Wars hoodie, a school certificate, the kind of necklace that costs a pittance but means the world to a little girl.

And we see mobile phone photos and videos, complete with cartoon-like Snapchat filters, showing the children full of life and happy before images of them which attest to the grimmest realities of war – small bodies, bloodied, and torn into pieces.

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