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Arts and culture

Syrian documentary makes waves at London Film Festival

BEIRUT |, with agencies - October 21, 2014, 13h46
A poignant documentary by Syrian filmmakers Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan has won the BFI London Film Festival best documentary award.
Described as “unflinching and poetic” by Sophie Fiennes, head of jury at the London film festival, Silvered Water, Syria Self-portrait, contrasts startlingly real footage of Syria, with the backdrop of rainy Paris and powerful music by Syrian opera singer Noma Omran to produce a powerful portrayal of the Syrian tragedy.

"The jury were deeply affected by this film", Sophie Fiennes said, speaking after Silvered Water, Syria Self-portrait won the Grierson Award for the best documentary at the BFI London Film Festival, "It is hard to watch, because the fact of war is and should be unbearable. Bedirxan’s passionate and courageous quest to be a reliable witness, while trying to comprehend and survive her desperate situation in Homs, is profoundly moving. Ossama Mohammed’s exile in Paris, resonates with our own safe distance from this war, but the miracle of the film is how it engages us."

The film starts with a title card claiming ‘1,001 Syrians’ helped to make the film. The documentary is essentially a compilation of several short videos taken on mobile phones and documents the torment of life in Syria. Director Ossama Mohammed found this footage on websites like YouTube and LiveLeak and filtered through it from his exile in Paris. These videos are interspersed with footage of the Parisian rain tapping on his window, together offering a glimpse into the director’s thoughts as one who has taken refuge from the war and can only see it through pixelated web videos.

Because the audience is aware that the videos are real, they are even more harrowing: The beating and sodomisation of a young boy, peaceful protestors being shot at by soldiers, people dragging bodies of loved ones off the street with sticks so that snipers don’t kill them too.

Mohammed is the narrator, explaining the scenes and discussing his own personal situation. He dreams about a young boy who stole his camera before he left Syria in 2011 who was shot dead as punishment.Then we meet co-director Wiam Simav Bedirxan, a Kurdish filmmaker living in Homs, the city Mohammed fled from. She films as much as she can, during the siege of Homs in May 2012, mainly focusing on the young children that she teaches and how they deal with the war.

A staunch critic of the Syrian regime, the 60-year-old filmmaker, Ossam Mohammed had to permanently leave the country when he denounced the regime at the Cannes film festival in 2011. Before Silvered Water, Syria Self-portrait, he made two other feature-length documentaries “Stars in Broad Daylight” (1988) and “Sacrifices,” also known as “The Box of Life” (2002), which were both critical of the regime and censored in Syria.

On his dismissal from the Syrian Ministry of Culture in 2011, he told Al-Ahram ““I see the ruling regime as an enemy of culture, freedom, and humanity,” Mohammed told the paper. “My dismissal is only a result of the hijacking of Syrian culture by mercenaries.”

This film can be seen as his attempt to fight back. In an interview with Euromed Audiovisual in June 2014, Mohammed describes his film as an attempt to save the story of the victim from the barbaric regime and the jihadists who try to destroy it. Defending his film for its use of disturbingly graphic images he believes his film opens up questions for audiences who may be suffering from what the world has termed ‘sympathy fatigue’.
#Syria, #Cinéma, #Film_festival, #Arab_cinema
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