Ten years after the Syrian revolution that rapidly turned into civil war, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, tens of thousands have disappeared — believed to have been tortured and killed in government prisons — and an estimated 13 million, more than half of Syria’s prewar population, have been forcibly displaced. Filmmakers on the front lines have played a crucial role in raising awareness beyond the din of TV news. Has it all been in vain?
“If we look at where we are now as Syrians, nobody can ignore the pain and the suffering and the death and destruction,” says Waad Al-Kateab, co-director of “For Sama,” the 2020 Oscar-nominated civil war diary that traveled around the world. But at the same time, she says, “For me and all the people that I know, we’ve never said: ‘I wish it had never happened.’”
Al-Kateab mentions a friend who is still waiting to again see her father, who was kidnapped eight years ago. So “who am I to lose hope?” she says. Every day that the Syrian tragedy continues, “the regime is getting weaker. This means that we were right. We had to stand up and fight.”
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Veteran auteur Ossama Mohammed’s poetic “Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait” screened at Cannes in 2014 and bore witness to the horrors of civil war using cellphone footage sent to him by hundreds of Syrians. “People were shouting, ‘Freedom!’ and filming the freedom,” Mohammed says. “It was a revolution in cinema, images and expression.” Ossama feels that, if nothing else, today the “consciousness of a multicultural Syria” has freed itself from the shackles of Bashar al-Assad, though the Syrian dictator remains firmly in place.
Hasan Kattan served as cinematographer of Oscar-winning short “The White Helmets” and assistant director for Oscar-nominated documentary “Last Men in Aleppo.” “The Syrian uprising from day one led to something we had thought would be impossible: breaking silence against the dictatorship and the intelligence systems that had been ruling the country since the 1980s,” he says.
As for longer-term prospects, Kattan hopes the uprising “will lead to something positive,” but doesn’t know what to expect because the revolution has led Syria to become a pawn in a complex game of geopolitical chess, where “each player is trying to obtain as much as possible, regardless of the Syrian
Filmmaker and journalist Layla Abyad is the director of upcoming doc “5 Seasons of Revolution,” which looks at four women in Damascus who were initially enthusiastic about the revolution’s prospects in 2011 but whose paths soon diverged amid the ensuing conflict. “It’s not the first revolution in history to turn into a war, and it’s not the first not to succeed in gaining the change it was aiming for,” at least not yet, Abyad says.
“I feel that we can still go anywhere from here. On the one hand, the way things look is extremely bleak — in terms of the country’s economic situation, in terms of being practically occupied by a superpower [Russia] now, in terms of the regime becoming even more overtly oppressive,” she adds. On the other hand, “what the next generation is going to think and do about this will pretty much determine everything, and it’s too early to judge. People who were 10 years old when it all started, we still don’t know what they think. Whether their families were from opposition or support, this is not a generation that will copy and paste what their fathers told them, or what the regime told them.
“Personally, I’m both curious and a bit fearful about what they will have to say, how they will see it,” Abyad says. “But what I’m more interested in knowing is what they are going to do about it.”