Syria: a cinematic revolution

I’ve just published this piece on Hyperallergic that I’d love to share here. It’s about what I feel to be a “new wave” in Syrian cinema…


A New Wave of Syrian Films Exposes the Failure of Images



Still from Avo Kaprealian’s ‘Houses Without Doors’ (2016) (image courtesy Bidayyat and Avo Kaprealian jointly)


In an increasingly appalling atmosphere of political stagnation, failed negotiations, and yet another ceasefire that won’t last, there is at least some good news coming out from Syria these days. A new wave of talented filmmakers is silently but powerfully emerging in the midst of a social media-driven compulsion to upload images nonstop and share them in real time.

In the immediate aftermath of the March 2011 uprising, Syrian activists and ordinary citizens have widely employed filmmaking to bear witness and denounce human rights abuses, in the hope that the sheer amount of visual media will provoke outrage and push the international community to find a solution to the conflict. However, these efforts have only contributed to aestheticize violence and anesthetize spectators from it. In the end, the incessant documentation of Syrian life has overexposed it — as well as daily deaths — turning the everyday into a banal, uninteresting, repetitive thing.


The endless visual production has taken life away from the art of image-making. Yet an emerging wave of Syrian directors is finally revitalizing it, as they bring life back to film. In particular, three cinematic gems have surfaced from Syria in the past five years: Ammar al-Beik‘s “Syria Trilogy” (The Sun’s Incubator (2011); La Dolce Siria (2014); Kaleidoscope(2015), Sara Fattahi‘s Coma (2015), and Avo Kaprealian‘s Houses Without Doors (2016). Far from being a mere documentation of Syrian everydayness in wartime, these documentary films start from deep inside the home and the well of family memories.


Sara Fattahi’s Coma takes her childhood apartment in Damascus and turns it into a lively setting where her mother and grandmother — and herself, behind the camera — move calmly and proudly as they go about their daily tasks. They are like gentle souls from another era, whose feelings and memories have not surrendered to the desperation and annihilation brought by war. In Houses Without Doors, which is screening on Sunday at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, Avo Kaprealian transforms his balcony in Aleppo into an open stage where we watch life in the making: both in the streets of his neighborhood that he frantically films, witnessing the war silently swallow the grocery shop, the fruit seller, the bicycles and the market, the kids playing; and in the filmmaker’s apartment, where his parents go on with their daily routine of watching TV, washing the dishes, smoking, and wondering when all of this will be over. In his trilogy, Ammar al-Beik films all things that make up an ordinary life: the birth of his own child, kids visiting a circus, a man and a woman fighting, then making love. Yet suddenly some extraordinary events break into these insignificant, mundane moments: street demonstrations and a revolution in the making; Scud missiles being launched on vulnerable cities and its people; the persistent soundtrack of barrel bombs falling from helicopters.

We do not get to see the war in any of these films, but we sense it. All of a sudden, insignificant actions of ordinary life take on a somber shade, and we feel that darker times are coming. In Coma, we perceive it in the way in which two Damascene women watch Egyptian TV melodramas, their crying intensifying as they will soon have to say goodbye to their daughter and nephew. We sense the war in Houses Without Doorswhen the young director films his mother packing her bag, just like her Armenian ancestors had to do before, with the bitter awareness that history inevitably repeats itself. And in La Dolce Siria, two children play with a 16mm camera as if it were the heaviest, most inexplicable thing compared to the lightness of Scud missiles crossing the blue sky.


Against the social media mantra of real-time documentation and compulsive sharing, Fattahi, Kaprealian, and al-Beik do not film to assert truths or provide evidence of the thing documented, as if the being there of the camera would turn the witnessed event into a quintessential historical testimony. Rather, the directors link different layers of time and spaces, creating connections between the present, old movies from the history of cinema, documentary footage of Syria in past and present times, and their own family archives.

All these layers of images enjoy the same status, which is that of uncertainty. Here images that belong to the collective memory of Syria’s history, such as the first space mission live-broadcast on state TV at the presence of former president Hafez al-Asad in order to celebrate “the most beautiful country in the world,” appear together with footage from the 2011 uprising, where peaceful activists joyfully throw down the statue of the leader and transform a military tank into a kids’ swing. Both sequences, which appear in La Dolce Siria, seem otherworldly and carry the same level of ambiguity, especially when interspersed with oneiric images from Federico Fellini’s Clowns. Which images are truer, more real? What kind of knowledge are we left with, if fiction films have become part of our collective history and imagination, and digital documents are blurred, fuzzy, and endlessly reproduced and remixed in the endless circulation of the web 2.0?

By showing scenes from a Chilean movie from the 1970s — Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo — to illustrate both the violence inflicted on civilians in contemporary Aleppo, and the historical Armenian genocide, Houses Without Doors seems to suggest that fiction can tell the unthinkable and unimaginable more powerfully than any first-person account filmed onsite. Kaprealian employs both the cinematic and historical archive not as mere source material, but as living connections that help us to make sense of the present. His shaky camera suggests that it’s no longer possible to bear witness, even if physically present in such a familiar place as his own neighborhood. Intentionally, he films with a broken lens, which results in a permanent loss of focus to suggest a weakness of vision, a permanent lack of clarity and understanding of all things filmed.


Paradoxically, it is precisely with this fading of vision that a new chapter of Syrian cinema begins — a chapter which starts where the compulsive sharing of real-time events via social media ends: with a gaze that registers the failure of being there. This failure, however, becomes an entry point to making sense of what is happening. It is precisely from this desire of going beyond the image as evidence that a new wave of Syrian cinema is rising. Fattahi, Kaprealian, and al-Beik’s films are animated by a rage and an affection that will take them somewhere unpredictable, but definitively worth watching.




5000 USD grant for a Lebanese Documentary project in production

منحة بقيمة خمسة آلاف دولار لدعم فيلم وثائقي لبناني قيد الانتاج في إطار إتفاق الشّراكة بين مهرجان دبي السينمائيّ الدوليّ والجمعية الثقافيّة بيروت دي سي، وضمن فعاليات مهرجان أيام بيروت السّينمائيّة، سوف يقدّم مهرجان دبي السينمائيّ هِبة بقيمة خمسة آلاف دولار من أجل دعم فيلم وثائقي لبناني قيد التّنفيذ. معايير قبول الأفلام و شروط المشاركة -أن يكون مشروع فيلم وثائقي طويل (٥٤ دقيقة أو أكثر( – لمخرج لبناني أو عربي مقيم في لبنان على المخرج أن يرسل ملفًا يحتوي على المعلومات التالية: – صفحة الغلاف مذكور عليها عنوان الفيلم، إسم المخرج والمنتج ووسيلة الإتصال بهما – ملخّص عن الفيلم (صفحتين) – رسالة النوايا (صفـحة أو صفحتين) – المعالجة السّينمائية (صفحتين أو ثلاثة) : شكل الفيلم، أسلوب الكاميرا، ونمط القصّة – ملخّص عن المخرج – ملخّص عن ميزانيّة الفيلم وخطة لكيفيّة جمع التبرعات – دي ڤي دي يحتوي على أحد أفلام المخرج السّابقة لدى حصوله على المنحة، يتعهّد المخرج بأن يكون العرض العربي الأول للفيلم ضمن فعاليّات مهرجان دبي السينمائيّ الدوليّ. الرّجاء إرسال المعلومات الكاملة باللغتين، العربية والانكليزية/الفرنسية، على البريد الإلكتروني : عنوان الرّسالة : هِبة لدعم فيلم وثائقي بالإضافة إلى ذلك، إرسال نسخة من المعلومات مُرفقة بقرص الدي ڤي دي إلى عنوان البريد التالي : بيروت دي سي، فرن الشباك، شارع سليم خوري، بناية روز عقيقي ، الطابق الارضي، صندوق بريدي: po box 116-5118 تل: 01293212 الموعد النّهائي لإستلام المشاريع هو الإثنين ١٣ سبتمبر ٢٠١٠

A 5,000 $ Grant for a Lebanese Documentary Project in Production Within the partnership between The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) and BeirutDC, and in the framework of Ayam Beirut Al Cinema’iya, the DIFF would like to encourage documentary filmmaking in Lebanon by offering a 5,000 $ grant to a Lebanese documentary project in production.

Criteria and eligibility: *The project has to be: – A feature documentary (54 minutes and up) -Directed by a Lebanese filmmaker or an Arab filmmaker living in Lebanon *The filmmaker has to send a file containing: -A cover page with the title of the project, the names of the filmmaker and of the producer and their full contacts -A synopsis of the film (2 pages) -An intention note (1-2 pages) -A treatment (2-3) pages describing the style of the film, the visual aspect, the structure and the story -A small paragraph about the filmmaker -A one page budget summary, fundraising plan, and status of the film -A DVD containing one previous film by the filmmaker Once granted, the filmmaker has to commit that he will give the Arab premiere of his film to DIFF. Please send your material in 2 languages (Arabic and English/or French) by electronic mail to: Subject: Grant for documentary project As well as a printed version of the material with the DVD to: Beirut DC, Furn el Chebbak, Selim Khoury St, Rose Akiki Bldg., Ground Floor, po box 116-5118, tel: 01293212.

The deadline for receiving the projects is Monday, September 13th, 2010

Fundings for Arab filmakers at San Sebastian Festival

I got this from my friend Alessandra Speciale -director of African Film Festival in Milan- who is currently helping San Sebastian Festival on this programme which is particularly tailored on the Arab world filmakers. Have a look!


Cinema in Motion 5 will take place at the 57th International Film
Festival in San Sebastian on Monday, 21 September 2009.

The deadline for registering and receiving material in San Sebastian
is 30 June 2009.

This programme, organised by the International Film Festival with the
Amiens and Fribourg international festivals, will exclusively comprise
feature films at the end of their filming or at the post-production

This rendezvous is open to filmmakers from the Maghreb, Portuguese-
speaking African countries and developing Arab countries
: Algeria,
Angola, Cape Verde, Egypt, Guinea, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya,
Morocco, Mozambique, Palestine, Sao Tome y Principe, Syria and

The directors and/or producers of the selected films will have the
chance to defend their projects before professionals from all sectors
accredited at the International Film Festival Sales Office.

Different kinds of aid will be granted within the framework of Cinema
in Motion 5, among which:

§       Mactari mixing auditorium – €15,000 in services.

§       Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC) – €10,000 to cover
the cost of post-production in France.

§       Amiens Festival – a 35 mm copy.

§       Fribourg Festival – a 35 mm copy.

§       Titra Film – French or English subtitling up to €2,500.


The Cinema in Motion 5 registration form can be found at:

Royal Commission organising the 5th Middle East Screenwriters Lab: call for proposals

I’ve already posted about Royal Film Commission in Jordan and the very interesting activities they are organising in Amman and all across Jordan.

This is a great opportunity for Arab filmakers or wannabees to present their film scripts and have the opportunity to join the Middle East Screenwriters Lab. Have a look at the following info:

Are you a screenwriter or a filmmaker working on your first or second narrative feature film script?

Would you like to further develop your screenplay?

The Call for Submission is now open for

RAWI– The 5th Middle East Screenwriters Lab

In Jordan

October 3rd – 7th 2009

The Royal Film Commission- Jordan is holding the fifth edition of the screenwriters’ workshop RAWI– the Middle East Screenwriters Lab in Jordan, in consultation with Sundance Institute. The program will take place from the 3rd till 7th of October 2009 in Wadi Feynan, Jordan.

RAWI is designed for emerging Arab filmmakers working on their first or second narrative feature screenplay. It provides an opportunity to develop your script with the guidance of veteran screenwriters who will embrace your vision and help you find the most compelling way to tell your story.  You will meet one-on-one with creative advisors for intensive story sessions and individual dialogues to further develop your script.

Both English and Arabic scripts will be accepted for submission. Interested applicants are to send an e-mail to:

The submission deadline is on the 15th of June 2009.

For further information, please contact the Royal Film Commission at:

The Royal Film Commission- Jordan

Tel: +962 6 461 3835 ext: 117


هل أنت كاتب سيناريو وتعمل على مشروعك الروائي الأول أو الثاني؟

هل ترغب بتقديم مشروعك للمشاركة بورشة عمل كتّاب السيناريو


الدعوة للمشاركة مفتوحة الآن لورشة “راوي” الخامسة لكتاب السيناريو

في الأردن من 3 إلى 7 تشرين الأول 2009

للعام الخامس على التوالي وبالتعاون مع مؤسسة سندانس تعلن الهيئة الملكية الأردنية للأفلام عن قبول طلبات المشاركة بورشة عمل كتّاب السيناريو “راوي” والتي ستقام في وادي فينان- الأردن من الثالث إلى السابع من تشرين الأول 2009.

تستهدف الورشة كتّاب سيناريو الأفلام العرب وتتيح الفرصة لهم لتطوير نصهم السينمائي من خلال جلسات فردية مع كتّاب عالميين ومتخصصين. تهدف هذه اللقاءات إلى مساعدة كتّاب السيناريو على صقل مهاراتهم القصصية والكتابية وتطوير مشاريعهم وتحفيزهم من خلال اقتراح أساليب متعددة تساعدهم في المراحل المختلفة للكتابة الإبداعية.

تقبل الطلبات باللغتين العربية أو الانجليزية وآخر موعد لاستلامها هو الخامس عشر من حزيران 2009.

للمزيد من المعلومات والتقديم للورشة الرجاء الكتابة إلى العنوان التالي:

أو الاتصال بالهيئة الملكية الأردنية للأفلام

هاتف: +962 6 461 3835، فرعي 117

البريد الإلكتروني:

Dox Box, the documentary festival in Damascus

I’ve just attended the “Voices of women” workshop, one of the side events and meetings of the DoxBox Festival, currently being held in Damascus till the 15th of march.  A very interesting and bold discussion was taking place in front of a very mixed audience, men and women, syrians and foreigners. At the core of the discussion there was the so-called “gender issue” and the complexity of this in a very male driven society like the Arab one. But there is no such a thing as “one” Arab society, and even in the same country women’s lifestyles, behaviours,problems are very different. The discussion, which features many women directors and also a man-a Moroccan French who has shot a film on modern women slavery in Europe- is quite monopolised by questions asked to Moroccan filmaker Fatima Jebli Ouazzani. She moved with her family to Holland when she was ten years old and since then her struggle between tradition and innovation has started. The topic of her film is virginity and marriage, and her freshness and strenght is not to stand on one side or the other, but to try to understand the reasons of both.  “In my father’s house” is the title of her film which was never distributed in Morocco. It is fresh, and doesn’t take anything for granted, just as Fatima herself seems to be.  Discussion is joined also by Saudi female filmaker Haifa Al Mansour who speaks about Saudi Arabia and its women, a topic which is always so much seen through Western stereotypes. Among the European filmakers invited, there is also the Italian Alina Marazzi, one of our best new fresh voices in documentary film. Sitting in the audience we can see Omar Amiralay, the father of Syrian documentary and a very controversial one in his country; and Mohamed Malas, the great director of “The night” feature film.

Tomorrow, another round table about the war and filmakers who have dedicated their work to tell people what TV doesn’t always tell.

DoxBox is a very bold association of independent filmakers who since 2007 has been working on creative documentary in Syria and all across the Arab world.

Jordan’s new exciting filmaking scene

I am currently out in Amman, Jordan and I am discovering an exciting forming filmaking industry. Jordan does not have a strong background in filmaking and movie industry (it has produced only a very few number of feature films), neither it is an oil rich country like the Gulf which is compensating the lack of tradition in the audiovisual industry with a good injection of money to create a new one.Indeed, it has a very promising future in the field of creativity in media.

A Jordanian animation company, called Media Plus, has just won the Silver Award at the Cairo Arab Media Festival with its cartoon series“Nahfat Ailetna” which tells a lot about Jordanian society in a very nice and entertaining way. But this is not the only good news for the country.  Institutions like the Royal Film Commission are doing a great job to raise up a new generation of filmakers by providing training in the audiovisual field and by renting the film equipment to who wants to practise filmaking.  The team of the RFC is all made up by young people, plenty of talent and energy.

Like Sarah, the lebanese young lady who teaches camera and filmaking. I attended her class today and  have to say that I have rarely seen such an energy and a talent in teaching technical stuff. She was also enriching her lessons by quoting all sorts of films, from the “Russian Ark” by Russian director Sokurov to “L’Avventura” by Antonioni: films that I have rarely heard quoted in a similar course in Europe.  I would really love to introduce people like Sarah to the ones in Europe who say -too often- that we should “train” the young ones in the Arab world, teach them how to use the digital technologies, etc etc. During the last Euromed meeting I attented in Cairo few days ago this attitude was sometime out once again, and I think it’s very bad that the people in Europe still have their eyes closed on what’s happening in the Arab world. Young people in the Arab world are gifted, talented and plenty of energy and creativity like Sarah, plus they know very well how to use digital media.

The group in the RFC is exactly proving this. They are active, plenty of  talent, and they are trying to build up an industry and a new generation of filmakers in a very passionate way.

They also have a very cool movie library that they are trying to build up and a very cosy screening room where people will be able to seat and watch European movies as well as Arab, Asian, American, etc. This gorgeous screening room has been designed by two young architects, Jordanian of course. Keep an eye on this new generation of Jordanian people that will be booming with such a passion!