Portrait of Syrian Women – The Hollywood Reporter

A haunting sense of foreboding Under the sky of Damascusa serious documentary film directed by Syrian filmmakers Talal Derki, Heba Khaled and Ali Wajeeh.

The film opens with a vindication interview: Syrian actress Sabah Al-Salem took a long puff of her cigarette before recounting how her refusal to sleep with a senior military officer sent her to prison. any. She looked down at the dining table while responding to the gentle promptings of her interviewers. “You must have heard about my problems,” she said in response to their question.

Under the sky of Damascus

Key point

Ask questions that matter, but make you want answers.

Location: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama)
Director: Actors Talal Derki, Heba Khaled, Ali Wajeeh

1 hour 18 minutes

The interviewers — Farah and Souhir — answered with nods. Yes, they had heard of the abuse Al-Salem faced. They learned that she had been abandoned by her friends in the film industry and had almost disappeared from public life. On a personal level, they also understand that their country has a deep misconception about women that offers no solution or salvation for women. When Al-Salem said “we are going through a terrible experience,” a frank conclusion to her heartbreaking testimony, Farah and Souhir could only respond to that admission with a penetrating silence. understand.

Together with their friends Eliana, Inana and Grace, Farah and Souhir began writing and staging a play about women’s experiences in Syria. The actresses are gathering testimony from in and around the capital, Damascus, talking to women about abuse suffered at the hands of husbands, fathers, brothers and uncles. They hope these stories, which they will collate and organize into one work, will shed some light on patriarchal violence.

Under the sky of Damascus, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, chronicles the stages of this play by the actresses. This is the final installment in a trilogy about Syria created by Derki. The director’s two previous films, Back home And Of Father and Son, focus on the men of the war. Back home follows the political transformation of Abdul Basset Saroot, a soccer star turned revolutionary, and Of Father and Son observed the radicalization of young men. IN Under the skies of Damascus, Derki teamed up with his partner Khaled to focus on an often forgotten segment of the population.

Five actresses star in this documentary, which will resonate across cultures as patriarchy knows no borders. They meet weekly at an abandoned house they’ve lovingly refurbished – clearing the corners of rubble, adding rugs and decorative chairs – to strategize. They thought about the types of interviews they wanted to include, debated the direction of the narrative, and talked about the pros and cons of doing this project. In a country where women’s rights are restricted, there is a risk of pursuing the truth.

Since Derki and Khaled were both deported from Syria, they collaborated with filmmakers in the country to do the actual shoot. Khaled’s presence is felt through the dub, in which the director explains the film’s purpose and recounts her own experiences growing up in Syria. These interventions feel inappropriate – even distracting – at first, but as the documentary builds to a shocking twist, their purpose becomes clearer.

The Syrian crew follows our protagonists as they traverse the city and conduct interviews between workers’ shifts and in the shadows of buildings. Patterns appear in the stories, all of which expose instances of abuse, coercion, and retaliation. The women communicated with whispers and sneak glances. In these interviews, Under the sky of Damascus move at unhurried speed. The punitive testimonies from the women – many of whom remain anonymous – are only briefly interrupted by glimpses into the lives of our protagonists.

Even like Under the sky of Damascus continues as an intimate observational document for most of its length, an anxiety that runs through the film. There is a fear that the women in the collective have harmed themselves. There is worry that their subject will be punished for speaking. Pressure-filled interviews of unwanted discovery. That nagging concern turns into a larger, more unexpected feeling when a member of the collective suddenly gives up.

She left a voicemail citing family problems, but the story didn’t match what these women — who had been friends for many years — knew about her. An investigation leads to a surprising revelation about the abuses of a film crew member. Derki, Khaled, and Wajeeh navigate the situation as gracefully as possible when the production runs into trouble, but what’s much more interesting are the implications. What happens when abstraction becomes reality?

Under the sky of Damascus invested in the questions it asks and the testimonials it highlights. The play the women perform seems to be intended as a tool to raise awareness, and the limitations of this approach become more apparent as the documentary shifts focus from the play’s theme. to the experiences of five actresses who were sexually assaulted. The conversations we witness are emotionally intense, pivoting, and sometimes failing. The play is derailed and the group’s disbandment raises more questions. Then the documentary became both proof of progress (these women felt empowered to speak out) and a testament to the work that still had to be done.

You’re wondering about granular solutions and wish the documentation was more oriented around the big reveal. How should these women grapple with facing violence similar to the subject matter of their play? What networks – even underground – exist to support them and others? And how can we start using the lessons of Under the sky of Damascus to create a future where recourse and justice are not as far-fetched as dreams?

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