Syria through the lens of a camera phone: Film festival promotes short films


April 19, 2016

On a clear night earlier this month, a few dozen people gathered in the ruins of south Syria’s Busra a-Sham Roman amphitheater for a film festival.

The screening was part of the third annual Syria Mobile Phone Film Festival, which promotes short Syrian films produced using camera phones. The festival is held only in opposition-controlled parts of Syria. This year, it includes screenings in a dozen Syrian cities, including besieged cities such as Darayya and Moadhamiyet a-Sham, in addition to Berlin and London.

“People won’t believe a lot of what is going in Syria on unless there is video documentation.” festival coordinator Muhanad al-Hourani tells Syria Direct’s Bahira Zarir and Nour a-Sham.

“Through this festival we want to encourage Syrians to produce films that reflect their reality and to deliver this message to the world,” says al-Hourani.

 Syrians attend the third annual Syria Mobile Phone Film Festival at the Busra a-Sham Roman amphitheater. Photo courtesy of Syria Mobile Phone Film Festival.

After the screenings end on April 30, the films will be available on the festival’s YouTube channel.

Q: What inspired you to start the Syria Mobile Film Festival?

Camera-phone videos played a critical role in the popular protest movements that spread across the Arab world in 2011. Thousands of activists, journalists and citizens shot exceptional footage capturing that moment in time, despite the iron grip of dictatorship. During this experience the camera phone became an essential tool of nonviolent resistance and free expression.

So much has happened in Syria that it doesn’t feel real sometimes. People won’t believe a lot of what is going on in Syria unless there is video documentation.

The goal of the festival is two-fold: First, we want to encourage Syrians to produce films about their lives using camera phones. Second, we want to show the world what is really happening in Syria.

Q: How many films were showcased at the film festival this year? Describe some of the topics.

There are 33 films, all shot with mobile phones, being showcased at this year’s film festival. The films deal with topics ranging from female civil defense workers to a story about three young men brought together by the revolution who go off to fight in the war. There is also film about a girl from Aleppo who builds a city out of cork.

These films are among those competing for four prizes including Best Syrian Film, Judges’ Choice and Audience Choice—which is based on viewer voting via the internet.

In addition to Bosra a-Sham, there will be screenings in Gaziantep and Berlin. The films will be available on YouTube after the completion of the screenings. The winner of the Viewers’ Choice award will be determined through online voting following the release of the films.

Q: Does the Syrian revolution differ from past revolutions because of the ability of regular people to capture video footage through smart phones?

If you think back to the Hama massacre of 1982, there were Syrians who didn’t even know what was going on. Now, with camera phones, we are able to report events as they are happening.

Through this festival we want to encourage Syrians to produce films that reflect their reality and to deliver this message to the world. 

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