You can often find Judge Jake Ware skateboarding with the Dalai Lama.
"God will surf with the Devil if the waves are good."—Dorian 'Doc' Paskowitz
In 2007, Dorian 'Doc' Paskowitz, international surfing guru, long term peace and surfing activist, and star of his own documentary (the excellent Surfwise); heard about a group of Palestinian surfers living in the Gaza Strip who only had a single surfboard among them and used it one at a time to catch waves. As co-founder of Surfing 4 Peace, an organization aimed at promoting peace through surfing, he took the initiative to arrange for a donation of a dozen or so surf boards from Israeli surf companies, and drove them down to Gaza.
God Went Surfing With The Devil follows Surfing 4 Peace in 2008 as they attempt to deliver another two dozen surf boards and surfing kit from the US to the surfers of Gaza. When we first meet the surfers of the Gaza Surf Club, they surf in ordinary shorts and t-shirts, and ride a few boards that are either in disrepair or plain broken. One shot reveals a board with a piece of chipboard cut into the shape of a fin and glued to the bottom of an old board. The surfers don't have leashes, so they tie the boards to their feet with rope. This is DIY surfing at its most inventive.
Now, you'd think that delivering a bunch of sporting gear to some Gazan beach bums would be a piece of cake, but you'd be oh so wrong. Dealing with Israeli bureaucracy is maddening as the surfboards get held up in customs for weeks on end. Obtaining visas to get into the blockaded Gaza takes even longer and requires the help of friends of friends who know their way around the halls of bureaucracy. Finally, the Israeli armed forces slow down the transaction as they fear that the surfboards will be used by the Palestinians for 'terrorist' activities. Weeks go by before the Israelis are satisfied that this is just one bunch of surfers wanting to commune with another bunch of surfers. But the problems don't end there as our surfers and the camera crew that accompany them into Gaza are arrested by Hamas military on suspicion of espionage just as soon as they cross the border into Gaza! Oy vey!
As we follow this adventure, we meet surfers from both Israel and Gaza, Jews and Arabs, and we discover that they are far more interested in surfing than in fighting and politics. We meet ordinary Israelis and Gazans and see what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict looks like from the view of the everyman in the street. As you might expect, it's not a pretty sight. We discover that behind the headlines and propaganda, there are just a bunch of people trying to get on with their daily lives, raise their children, make a home for themselves, and, in the case of the beach bums, catch some good waves. But unlike many of us in the privileged West, they have to deal with a daily threat of violence. The film manages to capture this simple truth beautifully by focusing on surfing instead of on the conflict itself whose presence permeates every aspect of daily life.
The film is shot on portable DV cameras and looks like it. Don't expect major surfing sequences either, as even when we do get a chance to ride some waves, they are mostly small. The film is well assembled and the director and editor manage to build tension and suspense as they construct a very tight 84 minute film from what was no doubt hours of raw footage. The accompanying soundtrack by Mark Noseworthy is a wonderful mix of ambient and classic instrumental surf tracks that gives the film a light vibe, a welcome relief considering how serious and even depressing the film could have been.
The DVD transfer is not the best I've seen, but it's perfectly serviceable. The film's main concern is not visual candy but rather the message of the Surfing 4 Peace crew. The 2.0 stereo audio track is well mixed, and combined with the excellent soundtrack work is a pleasure to listen to.
The good people at Cinema Libre have included some very welcome extras in this package. The first, a 10 minute 'making of' featurette is a very nice example of what these segments should be like. The director speaks candidly about the motivation behind this project, and how he managed to get it produced on a shoestring. It's actually quite an inspirational segment and budding film makers would do well to absorb Alexander Klein's thoughts on the process. Next up there is a 20 minute slideshow of still photographs narrated by the director and the production's still photographer. The photographs are a collection of behind the scenes shots, holiday snaps, and production diary stills, and they provide an excellent extra insight into the production. I found this to be a wonderful alternative to the standard commentary and a creative way for the director to give a summary of the film and his thoughts on the production process. I highly recommend this segment. Also included is the original ending of the film which is quite different from the final cut, as well as the film's trailer.
God Went Surfing With The Devil is a good piece of work that I think delivers a very clear and useful message. Much like Daniel Barenboim's efforts in the same geographical area to encourage peace through music, the efforts of Surfing 4 Peace are valiant and very worthy of praise. If enough Israelis and Gazans pick up surfboards, maybe they'd put down their guns for a while, or at least put enough pressure on their respective governments to solve this crazy conflict that takes lives every year and terrorizes the population on both sides.
Not guilty. Now let's go catch some waves!
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