Friday, June 02, 2006

may 15: wright on syrian filmmakers

"This society is responsible for creating the dictatorship - it's in our culture, our way of believing and thinking. I am trying to expose the authority inside us and the shadow of political authority in front of our door." (62)

Well put, Ossama Mohammed. In "Letter from Damascus, Captured on Film, Can dissident filmmakers effect change in Syria?" in the May 15 issue.

In the same vein, and in the confront the annoying reporter style (briefly mentioned earlier, maybe more later), "Do you want me to repeat two hundred times each day that my films are forbidden [distribution within Syria]? This is my society. I belong to this world. I am NOT a victim." (61)

At first I was a little put off by Wright's intro,

"Nearly every Middle Easter country is governed by an authoritarian regime, but that hasn't kept many of those countries - notably, Iran and Egypt - from developing surprisingly lively cinematic traditions."

Oh, those plucky Iranians. From the little I know of Iranian cinema, filmmakers there presently have to juggle state sponsorship, state censorship, political participation, political critique dilemmas similar to those Wright goes on to describe in the Syrian situation. The differences in the "livliness" of the cinema might actually lie in the history of funding for filmmaking or the long history of the film industry, national or otherwise, in the separate cases. I was more and more convinced of this when I read about Mohammed's Soviet education, Amiralay's French expatriation and the history of the Damascus Cinema Club.

I like the discussion of the oblique use of things like families, violence and trees in the cinema. I mean, the man titles his films "Sacrifices" and "Stars in Broad Daylight." While it's a sharp call, I don't know if I follow Wright when he suggests that the filmmakers, "revealed a perverse desire to romanticize he artistic constraints of dictatorship." (68)

Also amazing was this moment, "The critics of Cahiers du Cinema had chosen eighteen films, but the Syrian government banned more than half of them. Instead, the French critic Serge Daney sat on the stage and narrrated detailed descriptions of them." (63) Repression + ekphrasis.

More on the development of a reluctantly, critically, national artist, " 'When you live in a garden of corruption, you learn the skills of bluffing,' he said. "Some of my colleagues came and said, 'If this is not a piece of great art, you are going to be fucked.' When I was shooting, I forgot about this, but one day, when I was stuck in traffic, I thought, My God! What am I doing?"

And is it just me (or is it Mohammed? or is it Wright?) that keeps trying to create an analogy between the repression of authoritarianism and the repression of capitalism? Mohammed says, and Wright reports, " 'The kitchen of cinema here is fuull of poisenous materials,' he told me. 'But we are lucky as filmmakers to work in this kitchen. Because there is no audience, at least we don't have to worry about the censorship imposed by commercialism." (67)

And then there is this story, "Before 1963, people could see films the same year they were produced," he said. When 'Spartacus' the 1960 Kubrick classic, came to town, he said, "I didn't have money to go to the cinema, so I would steal from my brother Ali and invite my friends. Ali discovered this, and he brought a big stick and said, 'For every franc you steal, I will beat you once.' I thought about it, and the next day I stole three francs. It was worth it!"

There's a lot more to this article, but I'll leave it at this for now.

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