Every Friday Abounaddara, an independent collective of anonymous Syrian filmmakers, publishes a short film on their Vimeo page. They call it “emergency cinema” — because they see an urgent need for an alternative look at the Syrian conflict.
Abounaddara’s videos are self-funded and range from one to five minutes. They also vary widely in content and style. There’s The Sniper, in which a Syrian rebel grapples before the camera with the murders he’s committed.
There’s the story of Marcell, a female activist from Aleppo, who recounts her struggle with the rise of Islamist militants in Aleppo as she continues to oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
There are short films that center on one image like Vanguards, in which Syrian schoolchildren are ordered to chant nationalist songs praising the government’s Baath party — while one girl looks off as cries for freedom echo in the end in the background.
A group of disaffected artists founded Abounaddara online in 2010: most Syrian media wouldn’t accept their work because of government censorship. Then the revolution broke out in March 2011 and became the all-consuming frame for Syrians.
Abounaddara keeps many details about themselves private, like how many members they have and where they work. They do so to protect their members filming and living in Syria, where both the regime and some rebels are quick to silence independent voices.
Abounadarra is politically independent. According to Cherif Kiwan, the group’s spokesperson and single public face, the group intends their films to be “like a bullet” to the regime. Kiwan said he believed that “nobody [in the international community] wants Assad to go.” He attributed this to misinformation about Syria in the media: “Our society was always invisible. People were not represented accurately and with dignity.”
To disseminate a different narrative, Abounaddara avoids using the graphic and grainy images of blood and gore prevalent on the internet. Instead, they search for faces and frames that humanize the experiences of Syrians to the outside world — and one another. “Artists have to weld something out of barbarism to give some perspective, some hope, some understanding,” Kiwan said.
Take Confessions of a Woman, in which an Alawite woman wrestles with the rise of sectarianism in her community and her role in perpetuating these divides.
Or The Unknown Soldier, a four-part series in which a Free Syrian Army soldier openly recounts and struggles with the violence he’s faced and inflicted.
Abounaddara’s work has been showcased in several recent film festivals, even winning the 2014 Sundance Short Film Grand Jury Prize for one short, “Of God and Dogs.” Their work is now being showcased as part of “Here and Elsewhere,” an exhibit on contemporary art from and about the Arab world that opened July 15 at the New Museum in New York City.
Kiwan admitted that at times Abounadarra members begin to lose hope—and have even wondered if taking up arms against Assad could be more effective. With few funds and the constant threat of death, each week Abounarra grapples with the absurdities of war.
“We just believe we have to share the testimony of our people,” Kiwan said. “All those guys have a shared humanity. It’s all we can do as Syrian citizens and artists.”
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