Author: Russell Leadbetter
THE caption included in the closing credits brings you up short and reminds you just how perilous life is in Syria.
During the four months it took to make the short film, ‘Siege’, one film-maker lost his father to a sniper from the Assad regime. Another was almost kidnapped, and a third was killed during an ISIS attack on the Palestinian Yarmouk Camp in Damascus.
The casualties did not end there. The co-ordinator of the Watad Center, the main partner in the making of the short film, was assassinated in his home.
“This is just a small glimpse of the siege on Southern Damascus,” the caption concludes, with some understatement.
‘Siege’, depicting life under the siege in Yarmouk Camp near Damascus, is one of nine films being screened at Glasgow’s CCA as part of the Glasgow Short Film Festival. Another film in the strand, ‘Letters to S’, was made under a pseudonym for fear of repercussions for its maker.
One remarkable film, Frontline, shows a Free Syrian Army sniper, Abu Abdu, taking up his early-morning post, his rifle pointing through a window of a house in central Damascus. Asked if he dreams about his country's future, he replies: "I imagine us returning to live in a better country than this. Better than the destruction and the killing and bombing... The people dying, being homeless or forced to leave from place to place. God willing, this battle will end.” A caption at the end records that Abu Abdu eventually stopped being a sniper, got married, and found work as a baker.
In another film, '9 Days - From My Window in Aleppo', a Syrian photographer, Issa Touma, filmed part of the first days of the uprising in Aleppo from his apartment window. A bold fourth short film, I Love Death, asserts freedom of expression and individuality and mocks ISIS militants in their sinister black face-masks and uniforms.
Reached by telephone in Beirut, 'Maya S', the communications officer for 'Bidayyat for Audiovisual Arts', a Syrian non-profit organization supporting filmmakers in the war-torn country which was involved in the production of some of the films, said the film-makers of ‘Siege’ had initially wanted to dedicate to the film to a colleague.
“I was writing the tribute myself when they said one day, ‘No, stop - someone else has been killed’. This other person was killed when Daesh [Islamic State] went into Yarmouk camp," she said. “Each time I wanted to finish the text, someone was killed, or kidnapped. It was ironic and very sad at the same time.”
Each of the four mini-films within ‘Siege’ depicts different aspects of life under siege in the camp. "It is all about how they are surviving this siege, which has gone on for more than two years now,” Maya added.
The film I Love Death, she said, “makes fun of the whole Ba'ath [the political ideology of the Assad regime in Syria] history and how we were raised, brainwashed …and now we have another Baath in the shape of Daesh, and they are trying to brainwash us as well.”
Maya is originally from Damascus. What sort of message does she hope will be sent out by the films being screened in Glasgow next week?
“For me, it is that they show there is a new generation [in Syria]. They didn’t study cinema in Damascus, because there is no film school there. But with the uprising, there is clearly a need for them to express their thoughts and opinions - how they feel about what is happening, how they have managed to survive it all. For me, art will remain. It’s an expression of our humanity, our thoughts. It’s the only thing that will last, in my opinion, because it is the truth. It’s not propaganda, it’s not the media. It’s coming from someone who is actually living through this and expressing himself or herself.”