Film Review: GSFF – Focus on Syria

In association with the Glasgow Short Film Festival

Glasgow Short Film Festival presented Focus on Syria at the CCA last month, marking five years of conflict since the Syrian civil war began.

The screening brought together work from nine Syrian filmmakers over the last two years. Several of the films shown were produced by Bidayyat for Audiovisual Arts, a Syrian not-for-profit organisation launched in 2013 that supports and produces documentaries and short experimental films. Christin Luettich from the organisation gave a short introduction before the screening. She spoke of the importance of giving Syrian filmmakers the tools to tell their own stories and produce their own films, rather than simply filming and then giving their footage away to foreign journalists.

Since the onset of the war, those in the heart of the conflict have been using video and images in an attempt to engage the outside world: mobile phone footage, YouTube videos, speaking to foreign journalists in news reports and in films. As a result of this, those outside of the conflict think we know what it looks like. Yet, while our news is filled with discussions surrounding refugees, ISIS fighters, pro-regime troops and stateless citizens, the lens we view it through is pretty narrow. Focus on Syria challenges this, presenting a striking collection of voices that go deeper into the images that flash up on our screens as 30 second news segments.

The subject matter varies hugely across the nine shorts, but the threat or presence of death is undeniable in each one. It makes for claustrophobic and nervous viewing, sometimes made even more jarring by the normality of the situation that we are being shown. In Frontline (directed by Saeed Al Batal, Ghiath Had) a man talks about Fairuz, his favourite singer, and has a chat with his mum on the phone. The only catch – he’s a sniper, sat in position with a gun in hand. The phone conversation is held over the sound of bullets. No One Gets Out Of Here Alive (directed by Ramzi Bashour) follows Walid, a Syrian crane operator in Beirut as he goes about his day-to-day life. It ends with him on the bus home, trying to wake up a fellow passenger when they reach the final stop. The passenger is dead.

Others take a more absurdist approach. In I Love Death (directed by Amen Alarand), a sardonically provocative music video addressing freedom of speech and individuality, garish colours and cheesy (intentional) overacting is juxtaposed against men dressed as jihadist militants. A jihadist black flag is waved about and they all start dancing.

Through animation, dance, documentaries and hidden cameras, these short films are beautifully crafted and powerfully presented. When the lights in the cinema come back up, the words of Christin Luettich are still ringing true. Syrian filmmakers should be supported and showcased so that they are the ones in charge of their stories.

[Louisa Burden –@burdisthew0rd]

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