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The first film of Sunday’s edition of WOW Film Festival at Chapter this year was certainly not the easiest film to digest early on a Sunday morning. To say that Mohamed Jabaly’s documentary account of his time spent following an ambulance crew in the Gaza strip during the Israel-Gaza war of 2014 is heart-in-mouth stuff is somewhat disingenuous; the tension and suspense in Ambulance is far beyond what you get in even the most taut fictional thriller, but its borne out of a sense of despair about the fate of ordinary Palestinians, completely unable to know which shelter will be sturdy, which missiles will miss, which neighbourhood will remain unscathed.

The purpose behind Ambulance is rather simple: Jabaly proposed to an ambulance grew in Gaza that he follow them on their shifts during the war, alternating between attending to bombed areas and the grim banality of cleaning the ambulance of blood and bone fragments in-between call outs. In quieter moments, Jabaly often asks the crew what’s going through their minds. Mostly they say nothing in what quickly becomes a kind of bleakly humorous in-joke between director, audience and paramedics: we all know they’re not going to say nothing, but the paramedics still smile wryly as Jabaly asks, again and again.

By focusing squarely on the ambulance crew, Ambulance becomes not a documentary, but that all-important thing, a document, of a time and a place, of the thoughts of these men, and of Jabaly’s in his eloquent voiceover narration. Of their actions, of their decisions, of their moments of heroism and their crises of faith. To his credit, Jabaly’s editing of the film, shifting between the sheer terror of the bombings—the Israeli army even begins to ‘double-tap’ bombing sites: the practice of hitting one area, waiting for emergency support to arrive, then hitting it again—and the quiet lulls of contemplation creates a cinematic pacing so convincing that its effects can almost bypass you if you’re not aware of it. The nature of its editing structure is perhaps the one element of {Ambulance} that feels constructed, as if it is a creation of cinematic storytelling rather than pure documentary.

What that constructed element does is bring Ambulance into a wider debate not just about the history of Israel and Palestine, but about the necessity of filmmaking, about the necessity of documenting and depicting things, about the necessity of storytelling. Why do we film? So that we can tell stories. Why do we tell stories? So we can express something. Why do we express ourselves? So that we can remember, who we are and where we’ve been. In this sense, Ambulance comfortably stands beside another masterful recent documentary from Palestine, Five Broken Cameras. That film, by Emad Burnat, also tells a simple story, of a man’s life on the West Bank as recorded by his five cameras, each of which is eventually broken over time, often by Israeli bullets. The two films arrive, I think, at very similar conclusions about the condition of the Palestinian people: to survive the enforced apartheid from Israel, they have to record, to document, to express, and to tell stories about their condition.

To do so is not simply a creative act but a necessity.

Ambulance will screen at 5:45 on March 27th at Aberystwyth Arts Centre and on April 4th at 8pm at Swansea’s Taliesin. Info:


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