Film Review: Abounaddara collective shorts from Syria


In a dark, nondescript room in Finland a Syrian refugee is explaining to the camera that he needs to do more for his country but he doesn't know how. He has run an opposition website since 2005 and has been demonstrating since the revolution started in 2011, but he believes that with 4,000 hits a day the impact of his site is nothing compared to the people who die fighting Assad.

At just over three minutes in length this interview is one of many short films created by Abounaddara, a collective of self-taught filmmakers who have posted a short documentary on the video hosting website Vimeo every Friday (the main day for demonstrations against Assad) since the 2011 uprising begun. They aim to tell the story of the Syrian conflict through the eyes of everyday Syrians, rather than political opponents or regime loyalists.

The subject of individual documentaries vary but each short is drawn together by a desire to look beyond the chaotic images that frequent the news and instead offer an alternative impression of Syrian society, the stories of individuals and common humanity. They go on to be disseminated via blogs, posted on websites, burnt onto DVDs and showcased at film festivals, universities and film clubs in Syria and across the world.

A selection of the collective's films, followed by a panel discussion, will be shown as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London next month. But their creation has not always been straight forward; given the destruction and violence across Syria, the collective's filmmakers have often found it had to access the areas they want to film in, have worked under extremely dangerous conditions and have struggled to find internet connections to complete their work and upload it online

Despite these obstacles, the short films convey a powerful message. In Prayer in the Dark for example, white, plastic cups filled with candles have been laid out to spell 'Homs will not kneel,' whilst the crowd chant "damn your soul Hafez" in reference to Bashar Al-Assad's father who he succeeded in 2000. In Children of Halfaya a young boy recounts seeing his friend running away from a blast, his hand falling in front of him before he picks it up and carries on running.

The collective of filmmakers is named Abounaddara (the man with glasses) after the 19th century Egyptian playwright and journalist Yacub Sanu, whose satirical magazine was also entitled Abounaddara. His publication was banned based on its revolutionary content, though illicit editions did exist in the country; the clamp down on his work is said to have encouraged Sanu to create more.

In Syria the regime has blocked many websites, including Facebook and YouTube, as this has largely provided an outlet for the opposition to express their resistance to the regime. Yet the young men and women part of Abounaddara work anonymously to avoid reprisals for their work and despite this heavy censorship have found innovative ways to make their voice heard.

Written by Amelia Smith

Published in Middle East Monitor