Piero Usberti, director: “In Gaza, I wanted to tell how life creeps in despite everything”

“Gaza is beautiful, even for those who want to leave. » So speaks in voice-over the Franco-Italian director Piero Usberti, in Journey to Gaza , filmed in 2018 when he was only 25 years old. The choice of beauty was essential to film this territory which nevertheless resembles an open-air prison, under Israeli-Egyptian blockade since 2007: to the west, the sea, magnificent, but controlled by Israeli ships, to the That’s barbed wire… The filmmaker born in 1992 finished editing this first feature film at the end of September 2023 (produced by Arnaud Dommerc), a few days before the Hamas attack on October 7.

How did the desire to film Gaza come to you?

My father, who lives in Siena [Italy] , established a university exchange program with Palestine. It is in this context that I organized my stay, after my philosophy studies in Turin. I grew up with a lot of words from adults, from my parents’ friends, about the conflict with Israel. I had images in my head and I wanted to see, to meet young people my age. In Gaza, I was welcomed by Meri Calvelli, who works in international cooperation and created a cultural exchange center in Gaza – today she is in Rafah and is struggling to bring in the supply trucks. As soon as I arrived on the first evening, I met Sara, who was my age and was volunteering at this center. She was, in a way, my fixer [guide-interpreter who helps journalists in dangerous terrain].

You show young people who deeply love Gaza, even if their lives have stifling sides…

Gaza struck me above all by its beauty, because the rest, unfortunately, we know: the permanent humiliations of the Israeli army, etc. There have been a thousand political films on this territory, and I wanted to preserve the poetic part of the project, to tell how life creeps in despite everything, the curiosity, the warmth, the gentleness, the pleasure of even living.

I arrived around March 15, 2018, and the atmosphere quickly became tense, with this first “big return march” organized near the border, on March 30. Most of the demonstrators did not cross the buffer zone, and yet Israeli soldiers were shooting. This march sparked a lot of debate: should we go, risking our lives? I had to leave after a month and, when I returned in June, the situation had gotten worse, this movement was becoming carnage.

You make the territory felt in a very physical way. What feeling did you experience when crossing it?

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