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Syrian Films Tell of Horror, Hope

The documentary film 'Our Terrible Country' explores an inter-generational friendship amid kidnappings, war and exile.
The documentary film 'Our Terrible Country' explores an inter-generational friendship amid kidnappings, war and exile.

Syrian Films Bring Horror, Hope
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Syrian filmmakers have been attending film festivals in Europe. Last week, the filmmakers attended the showing of a film called “Our Terrible Country." The movie explores two men and their friendship at a time of kidnappings, war and exile.

Artists say Syrian films turn up the voices of the “real” Syrian people, who after years of suffering, refuse to accept tyranny.

In this documentary, a young man named Ziad laughs with his white-haired friend Yassin. They are in Turkey. They fled Syria after Ziad was captured and tortured by Islamic State militants. Yassin is in exile, fearing both Islamic State forces and the Syrian government.

Ali Atassi directed “Our Terrible Country." He says the movie is not about the past, but what happened as they were producing the documentary.

“I did stop shooting when Ziad was arrested by the Islamic State. I continued with Yassin, and when he was released later, we continued and he came back to join us in Istanbul and there the film took end.”

While imprisoned, Ziad wondered if people like him and his friends are to blame for the Syrian conflict. They once dreamed of overthrowing the government of President Bashar al-Assad with peaceful protests. But nearly 200,000 people have died in the fighting.

Ali Atassi says the film asks more questions than it answers. But he thinks the voices of secular activists are necessary for rebuilding Syria after the war ends. Those voices, he adds, are often marginalized by the media. He says the media like to describe Syrians as Islamist extremists, rebels, or supporters of the Assad government.

“We fought from the beginning and we will continue in our way. And we belong to the society. I do not think the Islamists or Assad belong to the future of Syria. The media do not want to see us. But we are here.”

Ali Atassi says Syrians inside the country need to hear moderate voices.

“If you look to the role that the culture in general, but also the cinema and short movie, can play in this struggle, I think it is a major role. It is not about arms and army and invasion that we can deal with the Islamists only. But also it is a cultural struggle. It is about some value. It is about the idea of the future of Syria.

The Syrian aid group Bidayyat produced “Our Terrible Country.” It is just one of a number of documentaries made in and around Syria. One of them is called “Being Good So Far, Part 2.”

In this new short film, boys sing about freedom as they ride on the back of a truck in the city of Aleppo. In the song, Mr. Assad is not even human, and the supposed “moderate” rebels are rats that flee when they are bombed.

The general coordinator of Bidayyat, Christin Luettich, says it is this kind of complexity that gets lost in news reporting.

The films have subtitles in English. Bidayyat’s website is in both Arabic and English. Christin Luettich says one filmmaker has been killed since the group started supporting artists last year. In addition, Islamic State militants are holding other people involved with the project as hostages.

Despite the continued horror, she says, filmmakers give her hope that one day there will be a peaceful Syria.

“All the people that I meet though the work we are doing in the last three years really give me a lot of hope because I see how much they are willing to contribute to the development of the country. How much they are willing to defend the values that they have in mind.”

Christin Luettich adds one of those values is the dream of a Syrian democracy that includes all the people -- without dictators and violent extremists.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

*This story came from VOA correspondent Heather Murdock. Marsha James wrote it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in this Story

torture - v. to cause severe pain; n. the act of causing severe pain in order to harm, to punish or to get information

tyranny – n. cruel and unfair treatment by people with power over others

marginalize – v. to put or keep (someone) in a powerless or unimportant position within a society or group

subtitle– n. words that appear with pictures during a movie, video, or television show and that explain what the actors are saying

Now it’s your turn to use these Words in this Story. In the comments section, write a sentence using one of these words and we will provide feedback on your use of vocabulary and grammar.