THE APOLLO OF GAZA
| 78 min
Selections and Awards
In 2013, an ancient statue of Apollo was found in the waters off Gaza—before disappearing under mysterious circumstances. Is it the work of forgers, or a gift from the gods to a Palestinian people desperately in need of hope? Soon the rumours start to swirl, while behind the scenes local and international players start jostling—some driven by historical preservation and others by purely commercial interests. Filmed in Gaza and Jerusalem, The Apollo of Gaza plays out like a mystery built around a national treasure that is the stuff of dreams.
The Apollo of Gaza is an engaging reflection on the passage of time and the fragility of civilizations, as well as a poetic and philosophical meditation that immerses us in the often-misunderstood realities of life in a place that continues to pay a heavy price for the seemingly endless Israeli-Palestinian conflict—a place where life doggedly carries on, resisting.
Like a meteor streaking across the sky, the statue of Apollo brings a moment of light and beauty to Gaza. Can it help restore dignity to a people, revealing a glorious history and fostering pride in a nation often misrepresented and demeaned?
It all started in August 2013, when a Gaza fisherman pulled a statue of Apollo out of the water. A bronze relic of antiquity, the statue was originally believed to date from 300–200 BCE. It became front-page news around the world—and then it disappeared, under mysterious circumstances.
Co-produced by Akka Films and the National Film Board of Canada and directed by Swiss filmmaker Nicolas Wadimoff, The Apollo of Gaza tries to uncover the secrets behind this stunning archaeological discovery. Filmed in Gaza and Jerusalem, the film plays out like a mystery—one full of unexpected plot twists, as Wadimoff tracks down those who saw the priceless statue or who have heard stories about it. Is it the work of forgers, or a gift from the gods to Palestinians desperately in need of hope? There are a lot of unknowns, but one thing is sure: the Apollo of Gaza soon becomes an object of speculation and greed, its very existence feeding the wildest rumours, and blurring the line between truth and lie, myth and reality.
What happened to the statue, whose historic value may be unparalleled? A war of attrition breaks out between those who have a purely commercial interest in the statue and others motivated by historical and artistic considerations, as officials and shadowy, powerful figures battle it out away from the spotlight.
Beyond the local political rivalries (particularly in Israel) and international concerns, The Apollo of Gaza is an engaging reflection on the passage of time and the cycles of history. It’s a history that has seen the birth, growth, and death of great civilizations, in a part of the world marked by the endless Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the besieged Gaza strip continues to pay a heavy price.
The world has come to associate Gaza with media images of economic misery and war. But The Apollo of Gaza takes us to a less well-known Gaza, where life doggedly carries on, resisting. The statue of Apollo may not have blazed its way across the sky, but like a meteor it briefly left light and beauty in its wake, helping to restore a people’s dignity, awakening a sense of pride in their history—a history that has often been misrepresented and demeaned. “Anything forged in adversity will be strong,” says one of the participants in the film. As fleeting as it may have been, the sudden arrival of this work of art struck a chord in the troubled daily lives of Gazans, and had the remarkable effect of sparking a cultural resurgence. Will the statue ever come back? If it does, the bronze Apollo could be housed in a museum built with the help of international aid, helping to bring the forgotten territory back into the eye of the world’s nations.
While the film offers never-before-seen images of life in Gaza and introduces us to a range of people living in the territory, it also embraces much wider horizons. With lingering images of dream-like beaches, The Apollo of Gaza is also a political and philosophical meditation. In its own way, this archaeological discovery—and still unsolved mystery—has jump-started an interest in history in a place where it has often been neglected or even forgotten. For younger generations, the enigmatic Apollo of Gaza could serve as a link to the past, while paving the way to a brighter future. Just like entrepreneur and collector Jawdat N. Khoudary, who lovingly watches his plans come to fruition, director Nicolas Wadimoff’s film is an invitation to patience—the only constant in the hope that peace will one day return to this coastal strip abandoned by all. All except, it seems, Apollo: an unlikely messenger of the gods, who suddenly appeared in the sea.
When I learned about the discovery (and equally sudden disappearance) of the Apollo of Gaza, I immediately began pondering the broader implications of this astonishing find. For me, the quest for the Apollo was a way into the history of not just an entire region, but also of the men and women who continue to create that history to this very day.
Shot in Gaza and Jerusalem, The Apollo of Gaza plays out like an archaeological thriller. The film tracks down people who’d seen or heard about this highly coveted national treasure. Was it just the work of forgers, or a gift from the gods to a Palestinian people desperately in need of hope?
What became of this mysterious statue with its potentially immeasurable historical value?
An intense covert war was being fought over the statue, between those driven by purely commercial interests and those concerned with preservation and art, every official and unofficial power apparently locked in a backroom struggle. The Apollo of Gaza is partly a chronicle of these claims and local and international political rivalries. But it’s also a reflection on the passage of time and the cyclical nature of history. A history that, for centuries, has witnessed the birth, boom and bust of great civilizations in a part of the world currently plagued by conflict—in this case, the interminable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for which the besieged Gaza Strip continues to pay a heavy price.
With international media spewing endless images of war and poverty in Gaza, I felt it was vital that The Apollo of Gaza focus instead on the region’s lesser-known side. Here, against all odds, life continues to thrive, undefeated. Like a meteor streaking across the sky, the statue of Apollo brings a moment of light and beauty to Gaza, helping to restore dignity to its people and waking a sense of national pride that’s often been trampled. “Adversity makes you stronger,” says one of the players. Indeed, fleeting though it may have been, the statue’s sudden appearance in the day-to-day torments of life on the Strip has unexpectedly helped spark a cultural revival.
In its own way, the enigmatic artwork breathes new life into a neglected, all-but-forgotten history. For younger generations, the Apollo of Gaza can bridge past and present as it points the way to a brighter future. Like entrepreneur and collector Jawadat N. Khudary, rapturously watching his flowers bloom, the film advocates patience: the sole guarantor of the peace that will surely one day blossom on these forsaken shores. A place abandoned by all except Apollo, the unlikely messenger of the gods, suddenly tossed up by the waves.
After taking a look at the region and its issues from a political standpoint (L’Accord, 2005), and then focussing on the men and women who live there (Aisheen – Still Alive in Gaza, 2010), I decided to take a more philosophical or even metaphysical approach in The Apollo of Gaza, asking about the gods and spirits who inhabit the region. In this sense, I like to see it as the final instalment of a trilogy. The Apollo of Gaza marks the culmination of a 15-year journey that began in 2003 and ended in 2018. Enough time, I hope, to not only fully explore the land, but to also map its political, psychological, cinematic and poetic landscapes.
Photo : Ufuk Emiroglu
Nicolas Wadimoff is a Swiss-born writer, director and producer who divides his time between Montreal and Geneva. He studied film in Montreal and in 1990 directed his first documentary, Le Bol, which was selected for the Locarno Festival. In 1991, Wadimoff released his second documentary, Les gants d’or d’Akka, shot in Israel and featuring a Palestinian boxer. After doing reportage for Swiss Romansh television, he returned to Quebec, where he co-directed his first feature drama, Stowaways, with Denis Chouinard. The film met with great critical success and won awards at many international festivals, including Locarno and Namur. The made-for-TV films 15, rue des Bains and Kadogo, l’enfant soldat followed, along with another feature drama (Mondialito) and the documentary Alinghi: The Inside Story.
Sensitive to the political situation in the Middle East, Wadimoff organized a series of documentary workshops for young Palestinian filmmakers. A resulting collection of five short films called My Home was shown at the Visions du réel festival in 2005. That same year, his documentary L’accord, on the Geneva Accord, screened at Locarno and at the Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal (RIDM) before being broadcast on Télé-Québec. The film was followed by Palestine, Summer 2006, a collection of 13 short films co-produced with the Palestinian Filmmakers’ Collective.
From 2007 to 2009, Wadimoff focused on producing, concurrently supporting numerous projects, including 5 Minutes from Home by Nahed Awwad, Dowaha by Raja Amari and Fix Me by Raed Andoni, that would go on to be selected by some of the world’s most prestigious festivals.
In 2009, right after the end of the Gaza War, he directed the documentary Aisheen (Still Alive in Gaza). It won an award at the 2010 Berlin International Film Festival and screened at more than two dozen other festivals, including Visions du réel and Hot Docs in Toronto. His next project, Opération Libertad, enjoyed its world premiere at the 2012 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, then screened at Locarno and in commercial theatres. In 2013, Wadimoff co-directed the TV documentary Chasseurs de crimes with Juan José Lozano. He immediately followed that project with the 2014 social-issue documentary Spartans. Shot in the neighbourhoods of northern Marseilles, it highlights Yvan Sorel, who runs a martial arts club and—in his own way—fights against poverty and violence. The feature-length doc was honoured as the closing film at the 2014 RIDM festival, won the prestigious Prix de Soleure at the 2015 Solothurn Film Festival, and took home awards at Palm Springs and Amsterdam, before going on to theatrical releases in Switzerland, Quebec, and France.
Wadimoff’s next documentary, Jean Ziegler: The Optimism of Willpower, focused on the charismatic Ziegler, following him to Geneva, Algiers, Berlin, and Cuba. The film had its world premiere at Locarno, and was released in theatres in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and France.
With his latest film, The Apollo of Gaza, co-produced by the National Film Board of Canada, Wadimoff returned to Palestine in 2017. It is a region particularly close to his heart—a part of the world whose complex realities he’s borne witness to through many personal projects and collaborations.
Producer (AKKA Films)
Photo : Karine Sudan
Swiss producer Philippe Coeytaux was born in 1965 and is based in Geneva. After high school, he studied business administration and law. From 1989 to 1993, he was a member of the Geneva artist-run cultural centre L’Usine. In 1992, at Documenta IX in Kassel, he co-founded Universcity TV, the first interactive television network, acquired by CanalWeb in 1999. In addition to working as a producer, he wrote a column on new technologies for Le Journal de Genève and PME Magazine. From 1994 to 1996, he was the general coordinator of DigiMedia, an international media convergence conference co-organized by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Eurêka Audiovisuel and the University of Geneva MIRALab.
In 1997, Coeytaux co-authored a book entitled Demain, j’arrête d’aller faire les courses: Comment devenir cyberconsommateur (Georg Editeur). In 1998, he began working in film as a production assistant, location manager and production manager. During this period, he worked on a number of dramas, made-for-TV films and music videos. In 2007, he was hired as a television producer by Saatchi & Saatchi. Three years later, he became Saatchi’s head of television production, producing or overseeing more than a hundred ads for major international customers.
In 2014, he left Saatchi to return to fiction and documentary. He produced two films by Frédéric Choffat, Les coulisses de l’événement – Terminus Brig (Prix Louise-Weiss 2016) and Non assistance. The latter screened in the official competition at the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH). With Palmyre Badinier and Nicolas Wadimoff, Coeytaux co-produced Ghost Hunting, directed by Raed Andoni (Best Documentary, 2017 Berlin International Film Festival) and with Sereina Gabathuler, L’aventure Bolex by Alyssa Bolsey. Having produced the made-for-TV film L’alerte, directed by Moïra Pitteloud, he’s currently developing a series for RTS.
His most recent production, The Apollo of Gaza by Nicolas Wadimoff, will have its world premiere at the Locarno Festival’s Semaine de la critique.
Executive Producer (NFB)
Photo : NFB
Colette Loumède began her career at the Coop Vidéo de Montréal, a group that has had a significant impact on Quebec cinema. Alongside Robert Morin, Lorraine Dufour, Jean-Pierre St-Louis, Louis Bélanger and others, she learned every aspect of the film trade long before becoming the veteran producer she is today.
Currently the head of the French Program Documentary Studio at the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), Loumède is known for producing documentaries that stand out for both their subject matter and artistry. Her productions have screened at many of the world’s top festivals, including Hot Docs, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), the Berlin International Film Festival, Visions du réel, Sundance, and the Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal (RIDM).
Loumède’s work is driven by a desire to produce films with meaningful content by auteurs intent on addressing the important issues of the day. She has worked with Serge Giguère, Richard Desjardins, Patricio Henriquez, Hugo Latulippe, Benoît Pilon, Sophie Deraspe, Zaynê Akyol, Claude Demers, Jean-François Caissy and many other contemporary Quebec directors.
Over the course of her career, Loumède has collaborated with a wide range of groups and people. She was responsible for analyzing documentary projects for SODEC, Quebec’s public film-financing body, and founded and led the documentary program at the Institut national de l’image et du son de Montréal (INIS), Quebec’s foremost professional cinema training institute. She is actively involved with the Documentary Network, RIDM and other festivals across multiple genres, and has regularly served on panels, juries, and many domestic and international platforms devoted to promoting auteur documentary.
A film by
In collaboration with
JAWDAT ABU GHURAB
JEAN-MICHEL DE TARRAGON
SAMI ABU SALEM
COLETTE LOUMÈDE – NFB
PHILIPPE COEYTAUX – AKKA FILMS
CARLOS IBANEZ DIAZ
Assistant Director – Gaza
Driver – Gaza
Production Manager – AKKA Films
Technical Advisor – Camera
Translation and Subtitles
Technical Support – Editing
Infographics and Titles
CARLOS IBANEZ DIAZ
A special thanks to ALEXANDRE DOMINGUE
and POST-MODERNE for their support
RTS – RADIO TÉLÉVISION SUISSE
UNITÉ DES FILMS DOCUMENTAIRES
With the support of
OFFICE FÉDÉRAL DE LA CULTURE (OFC)
With the participation of
and the support of
SUCCÈS PASSAGE ANTENNE SRG SSR
With the support of
FONDS D’ENCOURAGEMENT À L’EMPLOI DES INTERMITTENTS GENEVOIS (FEEIG) – ACTION INTERMITTENTS
The National Film Board of Canada
About AKKA Films
Since 2003, AKKA Films have been dedicating itself chiefly to art-house documentaries and fiction films. Films ingrained in society debates that reflect and question stakes of the world of today, exploring curious and original ways of cinematographic expression. Openness on the world and discovery of the other have led AKKA Films to coproduce internationally most of its films and to promote their distribution worldwide.
About the NFB
The NFB is Canada’s public producer and distributor of award-winning documentaries, auteur animation, interactive stories and participatory experiences, working with talented creators across the country. The NFB is taking action to combat systemic racism and become a more open and diverse organization, while working to strengthen Indigenous-led production and gender equity in film and digital media. NFB productions have won more than 7,000 awards, including 12 Oscars. To access this unique content, visit NFB.ca.