Syrian video archives

by Judith
Naeff

The Summer
is a time to relax and enjoy the pleasures of freetime, but taking a step back
from daily routines may also inspire more serious modes of reflection and
contemplation. It is in that context that I would like to draw your attention
to two remarkable video initiatives from Syria. The first is the anonymous
collective Abou Naddara. The collective trains and equips aspiring
filmmakers throughout Syria who regularly upload short video clips from a country
of which we hear the most shocking stories but rarely see how actual people
live their lives. Videos in the form of oral eye witness accounts play an
increasingly important role in Abou Naddara’s archive. Equally impressive, and
visually more interesting is the footage of everyday life in war torn Syria.
This beautiful clip shows the work of cooks. The close range footage of
routinized hands and the damp coming from the rice with lentils stimulates the
senses. It is as if we can touch and smell the food. The song that seems to be
now intradiegetic now extradiegetic is pure voice, deliverd by one of the
workers. The whole scene presents an embodied experience of an everyday
struggle to retain a sense of human dignity under the exposure to extreme
violence.

A more
direct engagement with violence can be found in the clip “The Way to School.”
Yet, here too, the relatively high quality of the footage, the journey against
the current of hurrying school children and parents, the lack of spoken or
embodied engagement by the camera operator with the unfolding scene suggest a
much more distanced and to some extent aestheticized visualization of the
conflict than the ubiquitous camera phone eye witness accounts that circulated
especially at the start of the conflict in 2011-12. Somehow, while the use of
relatively high quality cameras and post-recording editing has a distancing
effect, it also adds a subjectivity to the representation that is much more
intimate than the urgent footage shot by citizen journalists.

The second
initiative I would like to highlight is the Syrian Mobile Film Festival,
which shows that (semi-)professional equipment is not necessary to produce
highly personal and aesthetic narratives of daily life in contemporary Syria.
It is worth browsing through the archives of previous editions. This touching
video was shot during the world cup in Brazil in 2014: http://syriamobilefilms.com/en/project/our-world-cup/.

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