Every week, a new short film is released online by the Abounaddara collective, focused on depicting life in Syria and challenging the perception of world views in an indirect fashion. The collective presented their work recently at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London where five of their short documentaries were on the schedule at the festival, hoping to gain further exposure not solely for the artistic aspect but also to create awareness of the experience of the Syrian people due to the political situation. The screening was accompanied by a panel discussion afterward.
They have been doing this consistently for about 3 years now, since the uprising in Syria began in 2011. The practice is considered a sort of “emergency cinema” says a spokesperson for the collective, Charif Kiwan and those involved in this project think of themselves as “snipers” although their weapon of choice is a camera as opposed to a gun. They hope these short, and deceptively innocuous, documentaries will serve to have an impact on the Syrian regime. The Sundance Film Festival recently awarded the collective grand jury prize for the short film Of God and Dogs for 2014.
The style and title of the collective was inspired by documentary filmmaker, Dziga Vertov, known as the man with the camera, and Abounaddara, AKA the man with the glasses, emulates his cinema verité style, with a goal to change the way Syria is viewed. The films are very short but polished and professionally captured and aim to illustrate the urgency of the situation in Syria under the current regime.
The films often portray individuals making quiet statements about different aspects of their lives. In some, various women speak about whether or not they want to wear a veil or pants, why they feel oppressed, and about how they feel their thinking is being slowly negatively influenced. The setting of the films generally depict ordinary living but staccato gunfire plays in the background. In other films, there are child refugees describing gruesome acts of violence against their friends showing varied emotional responses one might not expect such as confusion.
While the messages delivered are not ones to which many people in free nations can relate, the backgrounds, the images, the families, the extreme ordinariness of the characters that are describing their stories are very relatable. The style of storytelling makes us envision our sisters, our fathers, our children as those that could be perpetrated by the violations of human rights that face the Syrian people. A very human face is being placed on a sensationalized media story and it reduces that scale of the news to the individual level.
While some of the context can be a bit shocking but they provide a visual documentation of the experience of the people of Syria and that helps external viewers to grasp what that may feel like. There other examples of “emergency cinema” or art appealing to humanity beyond the mass media and trying to tell a story that is frequently butchered through the eyes of propaganda and other agendas.