British filmmaker Sean McAllister has won the top award, the Grand Jury prize, at Sheffield Doc/Fest with his documentary about a Syrian family fleeing their homeland during the country’s civil war in 2011.
McAllister spent time in a Syrian jail when the authorities seized his camera while shooting “A Syrian Love Story.” He was detained in Damascus in 2011.
The director has also openly spoken about how he heard activists being beaten and tortured in Syrian jails. He described what he saw and heard while detained in a Syrian cell by the authorities.
His documentary tells the story of two opponents to the Syrian regime who fell in love while communicating through a tiny hole in a wall between neighbouring prison cells 15 years ago.
The couple got married after being freed from the prison and started a family. After the Syrian uprising began in 2011, they had to move to Lebanon first and then France.
McAllister said "It is time to be with Syrians who laugh and cry and are not just dead news items."
Ruby Chen of CNEX China, on behalf of the jury, said: “The jury were enamoured by this Bergmanesque portrait of a relationship and love, taking place against an ever-changing and tumultuous backdrop.”
Chen also added “Delivering unusual gender portraits it explores vulnerabilities, looking at the concept of belonging, providing a unique and intimate portrait of disillusionment.”
McAllister’s credits also include The Liberace in Baghdad and The Reluctant Revolutionary.