We spoke with Anas Hamra, co-director of Tawfiq’s Reef, a documentary short chronicling the plight of Palestinian fishermen in Gaza. Hamra is a resident of Gaza and is the founder and Director of Red Media Production, a company that provides information technology and multimedia solutions to varied clients. We caught up with him while he was in New York en route to attend the World Premiere of his film at BPFF.
Tawfiq’s Reef examines the dangerous, and often deadly, life of fishermen in Gaza. This concise film explores the life of Tawfiq Abu Riyala, a Palestinian fisherman who was shot and killed while fishing. Tawfiq’s Story is a lens for the film’s broader themes of the challenges fishermen face while earning a living off the cost of the Gaza Strip in what has now become one of the most dangerous professions in the world. Audiences hear from Mohammad, Tawfiq’s brother, who still fishes to provide for his family; Tawfiq’s wife, who recounts his last day; and other fishermen.
Tawfiq had started a project to create artificial reefs within the boundaries established by Israel for Gazan fishermen. Gazans are only permitted in the sea up to six nautical miles from the shore. This means fishermen cannot go to deep waters to fish. Fishing in the shallows limits access to fish, so Tawfiq submerged boats and other recycled materials to create attractive areas for fish to enhance opportunities for fisherman. Tawfiq was shot while working 3 meters off the coast of Gaza.
Hamra worked with Flying Paper Productions to make this film. Flying Paper is a 2013 documentary directed and produced by Roger Hill (co-director of Tawfiq’s Reef) and Nitin Sawhney about Palestinian youth in Gaza on the quest to shatter the Guinness World Record for most kites ever flown. Hill and Sawhney have worked with youth in Gaza and emerging media talent to direct and produce films from Gaza for almost a decade. Sawhney was also one of the co-founders of BPFF.
BPFF: Where is the Abu Riyala family now? How are Tawfiq’s brother, wife, and children?
AH: Abu Riyala’s family is still living in al-Shati camp, in western Gaza city. Tawfiq’s brother (Mohammed) is still working hard to feed his family and his brother’s family as well, since his brother was killed.
BPFF: Why is this an important story to tell?
AH: It’s a really important story to tell, simply because, how many media outlets covered such stories, a story from the sea, in Gaza? Those fishermen are fighters, risking their lives every single night and day, challenging the occupation and battleships and navy boats to earn their livelihoods. Too many of them say goodbye to their families before heading to sea, because some of them never come back.
BPFF: How were you able to tell this story effectively and succinctly?
AH: In shooting any documentary film, we shoot a huge amount of footage, really huge. Then, as you can see, the short final film is edited by Roger with suggestions and modifications by the whole team and advice from some people. It is collaborative to get it done and deliver the message to the viewers.
BPFF: What is it like to be a cameraman/cinematographer in Gaza? Do you face the same challenges any international cinematographer does?
AH: It’s really hard, because being a cameraman and journalist in Gaza means you’re risking your life sometimes. You will get detained by internal security forces, like Hamas, for hours. Your camera equipment will be confiscated, and sometimes they will delete all your footage and your hard work.
On the other hand, when traveling, if you are lucky enough to pass Erez checkpoint [the Israeli checkpoint to enter Israel from Gaza] you will be detained for hours waiting to do a security interview, and it’s more like an interrogation. All this just for being a media person. Sometimes they could use cheap tricks to deny you entry, limit your travel, and restrict your freedom of movement. So generally, being a journalist and Palestinian from Gaza, you are a potential target from all sides—Hamas, Egypt, Israel, and other governments.
BPFF: What advice do you have for other aspiring filmmakers?
AH: Take risks. Don’t wait for payment to tell a story through a film you can make. Consult with experts. And be unlimited in your ideas and your willingness to try them. That’s how it will work, and you will publish your story to be told to the whole world. Being a journalist is just like being a messenger—that you should deliver the message to the world.
BPFF: What impact has working with Flying Paper Productions had on you?
AH: It’s really an honor for me working with Flying Paper. They’ve impacted my life and enhanced my skills with my career. I have my own media business in Gaza called Red Media Productions and a few people working with me, but Flying Paper has allowed me to do so much.
BPFF: Thank you for speaking with us today.
— Maura James for BPFF
Tawfiq’s Reef has its World Premiere on Saturday, October 28 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at 12:30 pm as part of Shorts I: Short Stories from Palestine. The series is co-presented by the Palestine Festival of Literature.