The residents of the Gaza Strip have to live with the threat of being bombed every day. In one scene from Nicolas Wadimoff’s Aisheen: Still Alive in Gaza, a family clears a field of the remains of 650-year-old olive trees destroyed by war. In another, a young girl tells the story of losing her mother during a bombing. “We live knowing that another bomb won’t miss us. We know we can die at any moment, at school…anywhere,” she says, before showing Wadimoff the first-aid kit she keeps in her closet, just in case.
These are precisely the scenes Wadimoff sought to represent in Aisheen. He wanted to go beyond the beaten path to find out how the citizens of the Gaza strip are still being affected by the 2008-2009 war. “I wanted to try to get closer to the people, to the feelings, their emotions,” he said.
Wadimoff had not planned on going to Gaza in 2009. However, something about how the situation was reported on the news struck him as odd. “We always see people in Gaza as if they have to belong to a representation of a function. They cannot just be human beings,” he explained.
The Swiss filmmaker had already made many documentaries about Palestinian issues when he was contacted by the Al-Jazeera Children’s Channel to make a film about the war. “When I arrived in Gaza, I didn’t really know what kind of film I would do,” he explained.
“I knew what kind of film I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to do something about victims and terrorists only,” continued Wadimoff, stating that these archetypes had already been too enforced by the media. He wanted to make a film about the civilians who are never seen on the news. “So we went with the car we had from north to south and we just stopped by when we saw some interesting scenes,” he shared.
According to Wadimoff, these stories haven’t been aired before because journalists in Gaza are very restricted by both the Israelis and Palestine’s Hamas government. “It’s not because the journalists don’t do their job, it’s just because they don’t have any choice,” he stated.
However, the crew had no problems with the Israeli government once their permit for 14 days of filming was approved. “They are really out of Gaza…they are not on the field, on the ground, you never see them,” he said. “The Hamas people…I think at the time we were there they had other issues more important than checking a film crew. So they absolutely let us do what we wanted, we had no restrictions, nothing.”
The theme of the film came about when Wadimoff and his crew travelled to Jabalia in the North of Gaza. They noticed an old woman wandering between the destroyed buildings. “She looked like she was trying to collect some small pieces of a past life,” said Wadimoff. “It’s how we started to see the people.”
The crew began to look at the people in the “strange atmosphere of a desolated Western, like maybe Mad Max,” and saw human beings just trying to live normal lives. The title of the film, Aisheen, means “still alive” in Arabic.
Wadimoff wants viewers to understand that the residents of Gaza are just normal people. “They are not crazy militants and not poor victims,” he said. “They’re just people. This is it.”