In 2007, it emerged that a small group of young men were surfing in Gaza, sharing battered surfboards they had attained prior to the siege. Word traveled north to Israel, and that same year, a mixed group of Israelis and Americans delivered a dozen boards to their Palestinian counterparts. In the spring of 2008 they would attempt to deliver another 23 surfboards into Gaza. By this time the situation in Gaza had deteriorated further, the border still sealed, with military activity a near daily occurrence. God Went Surfing with the Devil charts the difficulties and dangers encountered by surfers in the region. Along the way it speaks to Israelis, Arab-Israelis, and Palestinians affected by the violence, charting their daily struggle to supersede the conflict through the joys of surfing.
Director Alexander Klein gives a little insight into the film in this Filmmaker Feature…
Why make a film about surfing in Israel and Gaza?
I really liked the optimism of the story. Some many of the stories emerging from the Middle East focus on violence and hatred. Here’s a story about dudes on both sides of the border who just wanted to surf together– no politics, no religion– just catching some waves. That seemed like an important story to share with the world.
What is your take on the conflict over there? Do you see it ever resolving itself?
I think peace is certainly possible. The surfers are a great example of this. They’re a bunch of guys who could have picked up guns but instead they picked up surfboards. With every generation there’s a chance to hit the reset button and put the cycle of violence in the past. The key thing is giving people economic opportunities, recreation, and a chance for a better life. People turn aggro and violent out of desperation, not because it’s fun.
Were there ever any heavy moments when you thought you were in over your head?
On the last day in Gaza we got picked up by Hamas and taken to a jail. They’d seen us filming some random building and thought we were spies. The jail was super sketchy. It had all these martyr posters and jihadi murals and guys with AK-47s marching around. We had no press credentials or anything like that, and even worse we had a bottle of whiskey and a Torah with us, both of which are pretty illegal. That wasn’t the most relaxing experience of my life.
Another time we were filming in the south of Israel and a group of militants launched a rocket attack on the town we were in. All of a sudden this alarm went off and everybody screamed and started running towards bomb shelters. The militants have gotten really good at building rockets in recent years but fortunately they’re still pretty bad at aiming them so no one got hurt in that attack. It was hectic to experience, but it’s still nothing compared to the people who live there and deal with this stuff on a daily basis.
You mentioned you have been editing this film for a while now and have just recently changed the ending. What were the circumstances surrounding this?
Making a cinema verite documentary is exiting but it’s such a crap shoot. Since you can’t really plan out a plot arc you just take what you’re given. Recently, there was a new twist to the ending, so we spent the last few days scrambling to update the film. I’m super stoked with the new turn of events. Finally, after all this time, the film feels complete.
What do you hope people take away from this film?
Peace and love and surfing will always triumph over lame shit! It’s a universal law!