As the Syrian war draws to a close, many short films and documentaries are making sure what Syrians went through over the last nine years isn't forgotten.
For Sama, a 2019 feature documentary filmed by Syrian filmmaker Waad al Kateab and co-directed with Edwards Watts is maybe one of the strongest accounts of the Syrian war from a female perspective.
For five years, al Kateab recorded the protests, how the country, touched by uprising quickly slipped into a civil war, with atrocities such as brutal airstrikes becoming part of daily life in Aleppo. But the documentary also provides a deeply personal account of al Kateab, in which she kept a record of her life: how she fell in love, married her best friend Hamza and gave birth to her daughter Sama amidst the war.
The documentary won the British Independent Film Awards, picking up four Bifas including best British independent film.
Last Men in Aleppo
Last Men in Aleppo is a visual account of two civilians Khaled and Mahmoud, who volunteered to pull other civilians out of the rubble in Aleppo. The city itself turned into debris as a result of relentless Russian and Syrian regime airstrikes. The duo were members of a civil defence group called the White Helmets and worked day and night in the besieged part of the city to save as many lives as they could.
The 2017 documentary was created when the Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad decided to return to his hometown after multiple intimidations by the country’s regime, including torture and imprisonment. Fayyad then convinced the men to allow him and a group of volunteers from Aleppo Media Center to chase them while pulling bodies and sometimes children waiting to be saved out of the rubble.
Khaled was later killed on duty while saving others. While the documentary was being filmed, he joked frequently saying the movie wouldn't end until he died.
In 2018, the film became the first Syrian documentary to be nominated for an Oscar. It won one of the top awards at the Sundance Film Festival. Steen Johannessen co-directed the film with Fayyad.
City of Ghosts
“During the revolution against Assad, I used to edit photos and video. In my opinion, a camera is more powerful than a weapon.”
This film, directed by Matthew Heineman provides a grim look at what is it like living under Daesh after the group captured Raqqa, a Syrian city located in the northeast bank of the Euphrates River.
Under Daesh, the city’s civilians lost their contact with the rest of the world as they became trapped. Then a group of activists used a satellite connection to reach the world and tell all about Daesh’s atrocities in their hometown. Featuring six members of the group, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) the documentary tells the story of young citizen journalists and activists who continued their work, even after their fathers and brothers were executed by Daesh in an attempt to stop them.
Return of Homs
In Syria, nine years of civil war saw carpenters turning into civil defence members, teenagers becoming citizen journalists, and a famous footballer becoming one of the most inspirational names of the uprising. Featuring the goalkeeper Abdulbaset al Sarout along with other young revolutionaries, Return of Homs is documenting how the latter came to happen.
The film is directed by Talal Derki and won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait
At the time when Silvered Water was filmed, its director Ossama Mohammed was in exile in Paris. The Syrian filmmaker received the film's footage via mobile phone. It was sent to him by a young Kurdish woman Wiam Simav Bedirxan during the siege of Homs. Eager to become a filmmaker, elementary school teacher Simav asked Mohammed, “What would you be filming if your camera was here?”
She then secretly sent 1,001 raw mobile phone and camera images from people across the country, including the ones Simav shot, to Mohammed. Seeing his film as an elegy rather than a documentary, Mohammed calls the owners of the footages “a community of dead poets”.