GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The Gaza movie premiere drew an exclusive crowd with local celebrities posing for jostling photographers — and that's pretty much where the similarities end between Hollywood and the fledgling film industry of Gaza's Hamas rulers.
The Islamic militants' first feature film — an action-packed homage to a top Hamas militant — cost only $200,000 to make and is being shown to segregated audiences of bearded men and veiled women.
"It's Hamaswood instead of Hollywood," Fathi Hamad, Gaza's Hamas interior minister, said after the film's first showing Friday evening at Gaza City's Islamic University. "We are trying to make quality art that is Islamic and about the resistance, without provocative (sexual) scenes."
Hamad doubled as producer, and the screenplay was penned by Mahmoud Zahar, the Gaza strongman seen as one of the architects of the group's violent takeover of Gaza two years ago.
Despite his fierce reputation, Zahar, a physician, has always has an artistic streak, with three novels and two screenplays to his credit.
The movie tells the story of Emad Akel, commander of the Hamas' military wing, who was killed in a firefight with Israeli troops in Gaza in 1993.
Akel, 23 at the time, was known as "the ghost" for his many disguises, including dressing up as a Jewish settler with a skullcap. In the early 1990s, he topped Israel's wanted list for his suspected role in killing 11 Israeli soldiers, an Israeli civilian and four Palestinian informers in a series of attacks.
In the two-hour movie, titled "Emad Akel," there's plenty of action. The hero frequently leaps out of cars to open fire on Israeli soldiers, prompting bursts of applause from the audience each time. There's no romance, however, and the female actors all wear long robes and headscarves.
The actors playing the Israeli characters — soldiers, then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his army chief of staff at the time, Ehud Barak — speak in Hebrew with a heavy Arabic accent, and their dialogue is translated in Arabic subtitles.
Rabin frequently yells at an inept Barak — now Israel's defense minister — who can't stop Hamas fighters. Israeli soldiers always seem asleep. Sleazy Israeli handlers try to persuade Palestinians to collaborate by offering them women and alcohol.
The cast is made up of amateur actorsall from Gazaincluding 57-year-old carpenter Mohammed Abu Rous, who portrays Rabin, assassinated in 1995 by an ultranationalist Jew. "I wanted to serve my country just like Rabin served the Jews," said Abu Rous, who oddly resembles the Israeli leader.
The movie was shot over 10 months on a production lot that Hamas hopes will one day grow into a $200 million media city. As part of its media empire, Hamas already operates a Gaza-based satellite television station, a radio station and a dozen news Web sites. Two daily newspapers are linked to Hamas, and the group produces a Hamas newsletter and an occasional glossy for its militant wing.
Still, Gaza's isolation — its borders have been virtually sealed by Israel and Egypt since the Hamas takeover — are putting a damper on the nascent local film industry.
Hamad and Zahar want to make their next movie about Palestinian fighter Izzedine al-Qassam, after whom their military wing is named. But they can't film on location, the Israeli city of Haifa where their hero lived in the 1920s.
Gaza doesn't have movie houses, and "Emad Akel" will be screened at a cultural center. Gaza's cinemas were closed down in the late 1980s, with the outbreak of the first uprising against Israeli occupation. Activists across the Palestinian territories felt entertainment was inappropriate at a time of struggle.
But in a stark sign of the divergent paths being taken by the two separate territories the Palestinians want for a state, movie houses are reopening in the West Bank, where Hamas' more secular rival, Fatah, holds sway.
A poster in the West Bank city of Nablus shows Lebanese star Haifa Wehbe in an alluring red dress emphasizing her curvy figure in a new Egyptian movie — a sharp contrast to the stern face of Emad Akel in Gaza that peers down from billboards clutching an assault-rifle with Israeli soldiers running in the background.
At Friday's invitation-only screening, the real stars were Zahar, Hamad and Gaza's Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh. They chatted with the actors and posed for photographs.
Zahar said making movies is just another way for Palestinians to fight Israeli rule.
"Resistance can be a word, a poem," he said.