The Apollo of Gaza delves into the past to better understand the present

Nicolas Wadimoff’s documentary about the mysterious disappearance of a statue is loaded with intrigue and philosophical inquiry.

In 2013, a statue of Apollo, the Greek god of art and prophecy, was found in the Gaza sea. Yet shortly after dragging the apparently 700kg statue from the waters, it disappeared. In Nicolas Wadimoff’s documentary The Apollo of Gaza, he follows rumours and whispers in his search for the missing statue. A deep look into history and the importance of holding onto the past, the film also delves into the current situation in Gaza and how that informs the importance and mystery of this mythical bronze statue.

More than just a talking head interview, there is an air of uncertainty surrounding The Apollo of Gaza. Against the backdrop of the hazy sea, we see blurry photos of a blue-oxidized statue pointing towards the heavens. In some images, he’s wrapped up in blankets. In others, more close-up, we see the perfect curls on his head. Most people seem to agree this statue was likely made over 2,300 years ago, but few believe it spent all that time in the sea. If the statue isn’t from the sea, where is it from?

The deeper we go down the rabbit hole, the more questions emerge. While we’ve long moved away from believing in the divinity of the Greek gods, they hold onto their cultural and spiritual importance. Apollo resonates as the messenger between gods and man, gifting him with the power of prophecy. He is the god of healing and medicine as well. For some, his appearance in Gaza was a good omen for the occupied territory. Maybe things were taking a turn for the better.

As with most Greek gods, however, there is a double-edged sword to his presence. Ushering in a new day can be a beginning or an end. As the god of medicine, he can cure people, or bring upon a disease. He is known as the “averter of evil,” but in a world painted in shades of grey, whose side is he really on? If he is indeed a messenger from the heavens, what message is he bringing?

You have the other side as well, that only sees or treats the statue as an object of value. How much is it worth? Who holds ownership over it? When it comes to works of priceless art, does ownership automatically revert to the state? What happens if you can’t trust the state? All these questions compound with both veracity and implicit beauty of the work.

This is not a film about answers but questions. Using this mysterious statue as a springboard, it delves into the values of our contemporary world in the landscape of one of its most contentious corners. What ideals will lead to the recovery of the statue? Idealism or realism? As some characters discuss the priceless beauty and the collective ownership of the object, others talk about how its monetary value might deliver them from hardship and suffering. Do the rules of “finders keepers” apply when it comes to priceless works of art?

The film is also beautifully constructed. While largely a talking-head documentary, the quality of images is very rich and the staging informative in terms of characterization and environment. There is a real sense of comfort in the interviews where the various subjects speak candidly with colour and passion. It is more than just a fact-based mission but an inquisition into their own beliefs and theories as well.

With The Apollo of Gaza, director Nicolas Wadimoff manages to create a film loaded with intrigue and philosophical inquiry. The many twists and turns to the appearance and disappearance of this priceless statue are interesting enough, but rooting it in questions about the nature of art, freedom and value elevates it even more. ■

The Apollo of Gaza opens in theatres on Friday, June 14. Watch the trailer here: