The Things Left to Say. A walk through 40 years of cinema in Syria
Curated by Soudade Kaadan and Charlotte Bank
Nidal Hassan, Salty Skin, 2003, 70’41”
Soudade Kaadan, Two Cities and a Prison, 2008, 40′
Hala Alabdallah/Ammar Al-Beik, I Am the One Who Carries Flowers to Her Grave, 2006, 105′
Khaled Abdulwahed, Tujj, 2012, 2’10”
Thaer Alsahli, MiG, 2013, 11’39”
Saeed Albatal and Ghiath-Had, Frontline, 2014, 12’40”
Bassam Chekheis, Waiting for P.O. Box, 2012, 15’41”
Bahraa Hijazi, Abortion of the Soul, 2013, 31’27”
Liwaa Hijazi, Haunted,2015, 112′
Ziad Kalthoum, The Immortal Sergeant, 2012,72′
Oussama Mohammad, Stars in Broad Daylight, 1988, 105′
Syrian cinema belongs to the lesser-known film traditions in the world; it has even occasionally been called Syria’s best kept secret. However, since the beginning of the uprising in the country in 2011, more and more films by Syrian film makers are making their way into international film events and festivals. While the new productions present a notable change in Syrian cinematic practice, they also build upon the work of former generations of film makers.
The state had a quasi-total monopoly on film production in Syria for many years. But with an average output of one to two feature films per year (plus some shorts and documentaries), the production of the National Film Organization in Damascus remained quite modest. And yet, Syria produced a number of remarkable auteur films, aesthetically intriguing and politically surprisingly critical: a seeming paradox for a country firmly in the hands of an authoritarian regime. As film makers were struggling to create despite the rigorous censorship, every film produced in Syria can be seen as a victory over censorship.
With the new millennium came an opening towards independent film production, in part made possible by the facilitated access to new digital media. Young, aspiring film makers began to produce films and videos, often with a strong emphasis on documentaries and a search for a new visual language. While censorship continued to be an issue, the new generation strove to push the boundaries of what could be expressed and by doing so, provided an important basis for the strong, outspoken language of more recent production. Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, film makers are faced with the necessity to speak out against the ongoing violence, while struggling with increasingly precarious situations for artists and film makers.
The program, The Things Left to Say, presented a number of films by Syrian film makers, ranging from examples of auteur cinema over the independent productions from the first decade of the millennium up to recent productions that reflect on the ongoing conflict in the country.
Alkassim, Samirah and Andary, Nezar: The Cinema of Muhammad Malas. Visions of a Syrian Auteur, London: Palgrave Pivot 2018
Bank, Charlotte: The Contemporary Art Scene in Syria: Social Critique and an Artistic Movement, London and New York: Routledge 2020
Boëx, Cecile: Cinéma et politique en Syrie. Écritures cinématographiques de la contestation en régime autoritaire (1970 – 2010), Paris: L’Harmattan 2014
Cooke, Miriam: Dancing in Damascus. Creativity, Resilience, and the Syrian Revolution, New York and Abingdon: Routledge 2017
Cooke, Miriam: Dissident Syria. Making Oppositional Arts Official, Durham and London: Duke University Press 2007
Dickinson, Kay: Arab Film and Video Manifestos: Forty-Five Years of the Moving Image Amid Revolution, New York: Palgrave, 2018
Dickinson, Kay: Arab Cinema Travels. Transnational Syria, Palestine, Dubai and Beyond, London: British Film Institute 2016
Halasa, Malu; Omareen, Zaher and Mahfoud, Nawara eds.: Syria Speaks. Art and Culture from the Frontline, London: Saqi Books 2014
Salti, Rasha ed.: Insights Into Syrian Cinema: Essays and Conversations with Contemporary Filmmakers, New York: Ratapallax Press 2006
Wessels, Josepha Ivanka: Documenting Syria: Film-making, Video Activism and Revolution, London : I.B. Tauris 2019
Soudade Kaadan, born in France in 1979, is a Syrian director living in London since 2020. She finished her degree in theatre criticism at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Syria and studied filmmaking at Saint Joseph University (IESAV) Lebanon. She has directed and produced documentary films for Al Jazeera Documentary Channel, UNDP and UNICEF, and has made several short films. Her first feature film, The Day I Lost My Shadow (2018), premiered at the 2018 Venice Film Festival and won the Lion of the Future award for best debut film. Her recent short film, Aziza, won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize 2019.