The Apollo of Gaza
(Switzerland/Canada, 78 minutes)
Dir: Nicolas Wadimoff
Co-produced by the NFB, The Apollo of Gaza recalls Orson Welles’s documentary F for Fake in its mesmerized exploration of the blurred lines between reality and fantasy, truth and con game.
Director Nicolas Wadimoff begins his convoluted, intriguingly unresolvable story on a beach in Gaza. We meet a fisherman who in August 2013 found what appeared to be a submerged statue of Apollo, God of the Arts and Poetry. At first, he was frightened that he was seeing a drowned man. Eventually, he and several other men struggled to get the statue out of the water, onto a cart, and into his home.
The then 29-year-old, who like most people in Gaza works hard to eke out a small living, rejoiced that he might have literally struck gold. He broke off one of the statue’s fingers, had it checked, and discovered that Apollo was actually made of bronze. Realizing the antiquity of the apparently 2500-year-old Apollo is what made it valuable, he turned the statue over to Hamas military men, thinking they would protect it and help him profit from his discovery. Instead, the statue disappeared. No one has seen it since.
The fisherman’s story sets up an archaeological mystery tale loaded with undercurrents. Let’s not forget that the story begins on a beach in Gaza, not Capri or Naxos.
One of Wadimoff’s interviewees says that he avoids talking about the subject of Apollo because he doesn’t want to attract the attention of “the government,” which he claims mistreated him more than once. He’s probably referring to the Israeli government, a point that’s underlined by a long shot of soldiers frisking young men lined up against a wall. (As I write this, Netanyahu’s cabinet just signed a truce with Hamas, ending several days of clashes that killed both Israelis and Palestinians.)
Crisply shot and edited, filled with sparkling images of Gaza rather than brutal ones, driven by oud rhythms on the soundtrack, the film winds its way through encounters with experts, craftsmen, and officials.
A veiled woman delights in remembering how happy she felt when she gazed at Apollo, thrilling to its male beauty and “taut muscles.” Another interviewee, apparently unimpressed by the Greek God’s buffness, argues that if you examine the statue properly, you realize that it could not have been submerged in the sea for long periods of time.
Theories abound. Maybe Bedouins found the statue inland, got nervous and dumped it in the ocean. Or it might have been smuggled in from Egypt through one of the tunnels that opens into Gaza. Perhaps those Hamas militants are holding it hostage: “He’s a prisoner,” says one man. An Israeli museum would love to restore Apollo and display him among its antiquities
Naturally, big monetary offers poured in from various countries, including Canada. The Apollo of Gaza became a kind of Maltese Falcon, the “stuff that dreams are made of,” as the movie puts it. Apollo could transform a poor fisherman’s man’s life forever.
On the other hand, one Palestinian says that the resurrected Apollo is a blessing—magic in the sea—a manifestation that anything is possible in Gaza. A craftsman is outraged by the idea of putting a monetary value on a sacred artefact. Apollo belongs in Palestine and should never be sold.
Ultimately, The Apollo of Gaza is about “truth and rumours,” as one character says. And both lead in the same direction: the fact of the statue’s existence. The doc explores legends and myths among people who feel plagued by oppression. Whether the Apollo statue is real, or a hoax, or being held captive in Gaza, or boxed up in a warehouse somewhere in France, it’s a powerful symbol of pride and aspirations, of hope.
RIDM runs Nov. 8-18.
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