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Arts and culture

"Queens of Syria" documentary makes its debut at the Abu Dhabi film festival

BEIRUT |, with agencies - October 21, 2014, 19h26
Par Sophie Spencer
Thursday 23rd October sees the opening of the much-awaited documentary Queens of Syria. The film is to make its world premiere at the Abu Dhabi film festival this week as the cast of The Syria Trojan Women prepare to perform for the first time outside of the Middle East.
Queens of Syria, a documentary by Yasmin Fedda, is set to make its world debut at the Abu Dhabi film festival, which opens on Thursday. The film documents Syrian refugee women living in Jordan as they stage their own Arabic version of The Trojan Women, an ancient Greek play by Euripides. The play, which is about defeat and exile, reveals parallels with the lives of the women performing it.

Meanwhile, members of the cast are preparing to perform for the first time in Geneva, Switzerland. After flying on a aeroplane for the first time from Amman to Geneva, via Frankfurt, the women are rehearsing for their first international performance on Wednesday 22nd October at CERN, funded by the Talberg institute. (Photo below from @SYTrojanWomen twitter feed: A rehearsal in Geneva).

The first staging of the play outside of the Middle East was supposed to take place at Georgetown University, Washington DC in September with the women then supposed to travel to New York City to perform at Colombia University. But in an ironic twist of fate, the women were denied US-entry visas by the state department.

In a Skype discussion that took place with the women and was screened at Georgetown university instead of the live performance, David Donahue, a state department official who was present in the audience said, “Sometimes, by law, by lack of funds or from a country in the midst of chaos, you can’t do the things you want to do,” referring to the State department’s suspicions that, as refugees, these women would not want to leave the US after entering it.

Commenting on this incident in the Washington Post, Peter Marks, chief theatre critic for the newspaper said, “On so many levels, the obstacles to a meaningful American understanding of what the victims of Syria’s chaotic civil war are going through are incredibly daunting.”

In order to really spread their story as far as possible then, the documentary was necessary. “The objective of the documentary is to reach more people, to let as many people as possible hear the story of these women. We filmed the drama-therapy sessions, the rehearsals and the performances thanks to a grant from the Asfari Foundation and private donations,” one of the co-founders, Georgina Paget said.

At the end of the project, the team were left with 88 hours of footage to edit into a documentary and were in need of post-production funding. The team were eventually awarded a Sanad grant by the Abu Dhabi film festival for post production, making it possible for the film to be screened at the festival.

“We hope that by watching this documentary, just like by watching the performance in Amman, people will begin to understand what is really happening. They will see Syrian refugees as real people and not only as statistics delivered by the media. They will see individuals telling their stories,” Paget said, while adding that, “to make the people care, we need to give them something personal and beautiful as well. Out of their own tragedy, the women created something beautiful. They created art.”

The idea for The Syria Trojan Women project originated with three London-based journalists, producers and filmmakers, Charlotte Eagar, Georgina Paget and William Stirling. The co-founders believed having these women perform the play, which had so many parallels with their own lives, they would benefit from a type of drama therapy and the play would also help to raise awareness about the humanitarian situation in Syria.

Just like the Trojan Women in the original play from 415 BC, the Syrian women lost everything and were forced to flee their country, leaving everything behind.

After performing the play on stage in Amman in December, the women said they felt that people had listened to their story. For once, they were directly speaking to the public, without any media between them and the audience.

Now, not only is there a finalised documentary and international performances but an audio soap opera of the play is also in production. There are plans to record it in English and Arabic, in order to spread the message and tragedy of these women even further.
#Dramatherapy, #Theater, #Syria_crisis, #Syria_Trojan_Women
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