Real Stories of Survivors: ‘Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre’

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Gali Amar, a 23-year-old student who survived the Hamas attack at the Nova music festival on Oct. 7.

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, news and social media sources have been filled with story after story – each more heartbreaking, more inspirational, more heroic and more devasting than the last. And each story contains a world in a life lost, a life rescued, a life saved, a life irrevocably changed by injury and trauma.

But the simplicity and universality of a singular story told keeps memories alive and holds many people riveted to the intimacy and the immediacy of the personal amid a cavernous and complex political conflict.

Within weeks of the horrific attack on the Supernova Music Festival, Israeli filmmakers Yossi Bloch (“The Devil Nextdoor”), Duki Dror (“Inside the Mossad”) and Noam Pinchas (mini-series “Murky Skies”) came together to examine what happened during the attack at the music festival, just three miles from the Gaza border. Bloch said that a friend reached out to him just a day or two after Oct. 7 to encourage him to make this film.

Their initial reporting became a segment of a German news magazine program akin to “60 Minutes.” But, as Yossi Bloch explained at a screening of “Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre,” held on Feb. 20 at the Edlavitch DCJCC, the team realized they could go into more depth with their intense interviews with festival survivors, first responders and family members of festival goers. Late last year they completed and released the 52-minute “Supernova” documentary, which is screening across the U.S., including recently at Georgetown and George Washington universities in the District, this month and beyond.

The Edlavitch DCJCC’s artistic director of JxJ DC Jewish Film and Music Festival, Yael Luttwak, herself a filmmaker, said that when she was approached in January with a rough cut of the documentary, she immediately said “yes.” “If I’m going to program something, it has to be good filmmaking and ‘Supernova’ is an exceptional film … It’s completely motivated by the characters, who, in this case, of course, are real people. They experienced the worst attack on a music festival in human history. That story is powerful in and of itself; the execution of the film deserves to be seen by audiences.”

That the directors chose to focus on a few festival survivors, first responders and family members, who share their horrific experiences in their own words – often tearfully – and through videos they took before and during the festival and then amid the attack, gives the film a fully personal perspective. There are also gut-wrenching moments when Ilan Regev, father of now-released hostages Maya and Itay, plays recorded phone calls between him and his daughter while the brother and sister were under attack.

The documentary begins where the festival goers began: happily getting ready, sharing their excitement about the weekend ecstatic dance party, explaining why these dance parties were so meaningful to each of them, and driving south. One survivor termed the festival “an atmosphere of unconditional love and joy.”

Festival survivor Racheli Nachmias, a 23-year-old aviation technician, described these all-night dance parties as “a safe place.” Film co-director Bloch noted that he was a part of the dance subculture in his 20s saying that he identified with the festival goers’ ideals and desires to immerse themselves completely in the music, lights, sound, atmosphere and sensations of this communal experience.

When the rocket fire begins, many at the festival record it, thinking it’s planned fireworks to mark the sunrise. Some survivors continue to film as terrorists overtake the festival grounds. We experience the dread and fear as cell phone cameras roll while they run to cars, shelters, kiosks, portable toilets, bushes, any spot to hide.

Indiscriminate gun and rocket fire was captured in real time by the victims. Friends see their companions shot, wounded and dying. Asked why so much of the massacre was caught on film, Bloch explained that for this generation, sharing video is their means of sharing their lives and communicating. And, in this case, preserving their stories.

“Of course, the story is strong,” Luttwak said, “but also, it’s these characters, these people, who carry you through this experience. They deserve their stories to be seen and heard and felt.”

Bloch told the JCC audience that he had recently completed a three-year-long documentary on John Demjanjuk and Treblinka and wasn’t ready to take up another intense project so soon. But he said he felt the same compulsion to say “yes” as when he heard Treblinka survivors assert: “Tell our story.” Adding, “When evil comes out, it looks the same everywhere and the toll it puts on a person is unbearable.”

“From my very first interview with a survivor, I needed to thank [the person] when we finish. Every one of them told us, ‘Thank you for telling our story,’” Bloch said. Yet he reported that he stopped sleeping at night during the process: “Every night I wake up remembering them … [festival survivor] Michal [Ohana] hiding for hours, wounded, under a destroyed tank … and others. I ended up going into therapy.”

Deborah Weiss, a District resident, attended the screening because she was interested in what happened, she said, “because, 1. I am a human being, and 2. because I have relatives in Israel. I thought it was well done and it was good to get the message out.” She added, “I objected to some comments [co-director Bloch] made after the film … He said that the Hamas attack was an attack on the liberal way of life around the world. I’m angry about that because part of the point of showing the film to the world is to show that Hamas wants to kill Jews – it’s pure antisemitism.”

Luttwak expressed concern about trauma triggers for members of the audience. She invited British trauma therapist Darren Abrahams to attend, enabling individual audience members to speak with him following the screening. He has worked in Kosovo, Ukraine, with refugees and asylum seekers at sites of war and conflict. “The first thing I tell people is that to feel upset and angry is normal after watching a movie like this. It’s going to bring up feelings of fear, guilt, rage, grief – all of these are normal.”

But he explained that talk therapy is not the most efficacious method for dealing with major trauma. “Trauma is not stored in the cognitive brain,” he said, “so when we talk about trauma, we don’t touch it. We might re-trigger it, so it becomes frozen in a flight-fight pattern.”

Instead, he recommended somatic practices where a trained therapist guides a trauma survivor to embody the feelings of the initial trauma. “We have to direct ourself into the body sensations so they can be released, otherwise it stays stuck in the body like a coiled spring … We often don’t know how to regulate our own bodies” when it comes to releasing trauma.

“Within our [Jewish] community we have 2,000 years of trauma to deal with,” he emphasized. “It will live for generations unless we deal with it. It’s really okay to seek help. It’s not a weakness, but a sign of strength.”

Lisa Traiger is the arts correspondent for Washington Jewish Week.

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