Brownstein: 'We can’t sleep at night now,' says director of documentary on Israel festival massacre

“One can only imagine what kind of unbearable terrors the survivors have had to deal with,” says Yossi Bloch, who co-directed the documentary Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre, about the Oct. 7 attack.

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It was a little less than four months ago that an indiscriminate slaughter took place at an Israeli music festival and at kibbutzes in the area.  

This unprovoked attack on Oct. 7 precipitated the Israel-Hamas war. But as is so often the case in war, those tragic events have almost been overshadowed by the carnage that has since ensued. 

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However, the horrors of that day have been captured in the eyewitness documentary Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre and will serve as a haunting, bone-chilling reminder for years to come. The hour-long film makes its North American debut Wednesday at the Congregation Shaar Hashomayim. 

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Directors Duki Dror and Yossi Bloch were able to put together the film with agonizing accounts from survivors, their relatives and friends and responders, along with even more agonizing real-time cellphone videos culled from the day. Also included is blood-curdling footage gathered by Hamas. 

Bloch will be in Montreal Wednesday for a talk following the screening. In a Zoom interview, Bloch, who didn’t attend the festival, says he’s “traumatized” by what he has since seen and will remain so for the rest of his life.  

The Supernova music festival was slated to be the party of all parties. Mere hours before the attack, some 3,500 revellers, mostly 20- and 30-somethings, were bopping to rave beats around midnight at the outdoor fest, taking place about five kilometres from the Israel/Gaza divide. The participants were all smiles and, for the time being, oblivious to the woes of the world. 

That mindset was forever altered around sunrise. A siren warned of incoming rockets, swiftly followed by a Hamas-led assault on the festival site, with armed attackers on motorcycles and trucks, even on paragliders. 

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Festival-goers tried to run for their lives, but with few options of where to flee. They were being indiscriminately fired upon wherever they went, be it in nearby bushes, bomb shelters or even outhouses on the festival grounds. Efforts to get back into their cars proved futile as roads were clogged and surrounded by attackers.  

Viewers of the documentary will be left shaken from testimony and footage taken by two panic-stricken young women who took refuge together on the floor of an outhouse for 12 hours, with bullets being fired into the structure over their heads. Or the account of another survivor who, to avoid being killed, hid under dead bodies and severed limbs in a bomb shelter that proved to offer no shelter at all. Or the sound of distraught parents having final phone conversations with their kids who were soon to be taken hostage. 

In the end, 371 festival attendees were murdered, and hundreds more were injured. At least 40 were taken hostage and brought to Gaza. Stories of rape and other unfathomable brutality soon made the rounds. 

It was speculated that Hamas initially hadn’t even been aware of the festival, but happened upon it. The attackers’ initial goal was to wreak havoc on the kibbutzes and military outposts in the area. They did. 

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Around 1,200 people were murdered in Israel on Oct. 7. Events of that day triggered the Israel-Hamas war, which shows no signs of abating and has led to the loss of thousands of lives, including far too many innocent children in Gaza. The war has displaced more than 80 per cent of Gaza’s 2.2 million people, the United Nations says. 

“I didn’t initially want to do this project, but the producer, a friend of mine, asked me: ‘Please do our story,’” says Bloch, who is based in Tel Aviv and is probably best known for the acclaimed Netflix documentary The Devil Next Door. “I went in not really knowing what was going to happen. But in retrospect, the worst for me was not knowing what really happened. Now I know.

“This is the most important thing I’ve done in my life. These people we covered didn’t have anybody before to get their stories out.” 

Bloch began doing interviews with survivors, their friends and families about eight days after the tragedy.   

“What surprised me was that after going for the interviews, people would offer me footage of events. I was absolutely shocked by what I was seeing. It ended up that everyone on this production needed emotional first-aid therapy from professionals in trying to deal with what we saw. We can’t sleep at night now, so one can only imagine what kind of unbearable terrors the survivors have had to deal with. All these people did was go to a party.” 

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Bloch has kept in constant contact with those he interviewed.  

“The most amazing thing I heard was one of the girls telling me: ‘Listen, I don’t remember the stories I told you. I hardly remember anything that happened except the horror that will always be in my flesh.’  

“This is exactly what the attackers wanted. The whole concept of terror is to put people in terror. That’s why Hamas did what they did and that’s why they shot all this footage, some of which we ended up using in the film.  

“Throughout history, (perpetrators) tend to eliminate every proof of the horrors that have taken place. Not this time — they’re (acknowledging) ‘This is our doing.’ They wanted these pictures to come out.

“In the end, they didn’t get territory, they didn’t get control. The only things they produced were horrific pictures.” 

AT A GLANCE 

Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre is screened Wednesday, Jan. 31, at 7:30 p.m. at the Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, 450 Kensington Ave. Admission costs $18. For more information, go to shaarhashomayim.org or call 514-937-9471.

A free screening for CEGEP and university students takes place Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. at the same venue. 

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