Al-Akhbar Newspaper | Firas Mohammed
Monday 6 August 2018
Damascus| Cinema is a costly art, compared to other arts, which forced the filmmaker to look for sources of financial support that keep him from need and frees his instruments, while giving him the ability to create his cinematically desired reality. In effect, the production aspect of cinema is based on money management and funding’s redirection, to create a reality that fulfills the sponsor’s wishes. This concept has become in almost total control of ideas, their formulation and the consecration of political and economic agendas in the process.
In the fifties of last century’s America, the term (Studio Cinema) was established. Its worlds are built from scratch, it depends on the concept of a lead star. so, cinema turned into a semi-bourgeois state that marginalized the street, and promoted the upper class of society by capturing its conflicts and dissecting its ideology. Despite the fact that this mindset produced many great films, cinema remained detached from reality. The severity and obstinacy of the situation escalated after the camera of the Italian filmmaker Rossellini went out on the streets of demolished Rome after world war II. A city where theatres and studios were destroyed, which left Italian realist filmmakers no choice, but to break the rule, open new spaces and recruit ordinary people instead of professional actors to construct their cinematic visions. This was the spark that led to the separation of cinema from financial whims, and its overture towards all urban and social references.
The need to express, and the necessity to create new cinematic languages, were among the motives of any emergent Independent cinema. This matter seems to become harder in third-world countries, Where cinema has become an indispensable means of expression. But, the filmmaker’s need for a sponsor or a financer, has prevented the well-deserved rise of independent cinema. In West Arabia, a big portion of filmmakers sought after French financing. However, in Egypt and Lebanon, production grants were a factor of prosper, despite their difficult conditions. In Syria, the mission seems even harder: The reality that forced itself on the filmmaker, might not rise to the political ambitions of the sponsors. This is why the Syrian independent production, if there is any, was confined to short films (feature films and documentaries). While it was almost non-existent in the field of long narrative cinema. Besides its heavy financial burdens, long narrative cinema needs a well-developed marketing and distribution culture which is mostly absent from Syrian non-governmental entities.
This coincides with a time, where said culture has turned into a guiding system, that is capable of directing the film to fulfill the desire of its maker. All these circumstances make the decision to produce a long film a challenge, which can be described as nearly impossible. Nevertheless, it is the decision made by the young Syrian filmmaker Simon Safieh (1988) three years ago, with personal funding and the contribution of partners who believed in the experience, and the result was his film (Sardine’s Trying to Fly 2015). Safieh says:( Everybody treated this experience with interest and respect since the beginning of production. They relinquished their pay to complete the project. I am speaking here of the actors, Mahran Youssef who provided the camera and Ibrahim Melhem my partner
This experience allowed me to meet the musician Samer Al-Noaimi, who composed the musical album, that is inspired by the film). To make what could be considered the first independent film on the Syrian modern map of cinema, with digital cameras, Safieh went on to shoot his film in Tartouss, in the late 2015. The film is starring Muhammad Ali, Nancy Khoury, Muhsen Abbas and others.
Safieh’s reliance on his cinematic culture and liberty of production through the Poor Film project, both helped crystalize the idea as a whole, from the filming stage to the post-production stage, leaving him space to innovate with his cinematic language and marketing methods. Perhaps, they also bought him enough time to develop the project into maturity and think of its details thoroughly. On the other hand, in the middle of this month, he will be able to launch his promoting campaign with a musical album titled (Sardine’s trying to fly-by Samer Al-Noaimi), with which he presents sound tracks, that share the spirit of the film and have the same poster. The innovative promotion plan will allow a primary equivocation to catch a glimpse of the film.
After three years of accumulative work, the film has reached the hardest stage of the entire production process, because it is responsible for providing the film with the ability to log into the big screens. As a coronation of a long struggle with the traditions of independent cinema, its unique production process and the serious search for a true opportunity for the product to be adopted,
Safieh says: “I was actually looking for the truth in cinema, this might sound old, but it seems to be a question, which is posed by war in your stead: How do I express myself, without the film seeming subjective)? Safieh’s ambition to create an opportunity for his film to be seen outside his country, will make it stupendous under the circumstance of international festivals being congested with films made by Syrians living abroad, in addition to Safieh’s film being considered to have a new expressive ability, which is solely built on the humanity of its characters, and the loss of said humanity under the pressure of war.
He finally finished his own part of the film (Memory Nostalgia)
The film’s premise, which comes down to the question: (what if?), transforms in a context near to storytelling into the phrase (once upon a time). This harsh transition from hypothesis to a solid reality, left in this film heavy moments for pondering, made with an evident predilection to derive fundamental questions about the reality of war, in one of the most damaged Syrian cities, which lost so many of its youth, coinciding deeply with Safieh’s desire to probe the sub-textual changes in the concepts of identity and affiliation. The film’s concepts, which are constantly tackled in Syrian cinema since its inception, took on the guise of an inquisitor, in a daring attempt to tune reality according to variables, which it does not try to disregard, as much as it tries to capture their repercussions, moving away from specificity and customization, going towards generalization in its painful form, ripping apart all the factors of safety from traditional concepts in his choice of cinematic interrogation.
The film’s premise, which comes down to the question: (what if?), transforms in a context near to storytelling into the phrase (once upon a time). This harsh transition from hypothesis to solid reality, left in this film heavy moments for pondering, made with an evident predilection to derive fundamental questions about the reality of war, in one of the most damaged Syrian cities, which lost so many of its youth, coinciding deeply with Safieh’s desire to probe the sub-textual changes in the concepts of identity and belonging. The film’s concepts, which are constantly tackled in Syrian cinema since its inception, took on the guise of an inquisitor, in a daring attempt to tune reality according to variables, which it does not try to disregard, as much as it tries to capture their repercussions, moving away from specificity and customization, going towards generalization in its painful form, ripping apart all the factors of safety from traditional concepts in his choice of cinematic interrogation.
The film’s processing of urgent concepts, which saw the light during the Syrian crisis, does not differ from the filmmaker’s attempts to present his independent artistic choice with the available tools-a duality that created a counterpoint between form and essence, and between dramatic and documentary, particularly given that the film’s plot is based on the filmmaker’s experience with his short documentary (The Tunnel 2013. Poor Film), which is a similar experience to the Egyptian filmmaker Abo Bakr Shawqi’s film (Judgment day 2018), in continuance of his short film about the lepers’ colony. Safieh says to Al-Akhbar: (Self-funding is a proposed option at the beginning of all ideas. We spend so much time convincing people with our ideas. Sidney Lumet said it before, I prefer to spend time seeing my idea to fruition, than convincing production companies and hedge funds to finance it. In the end, whoever will be interested in the film, will be any way).
Safieh made two short films, produced by the General Organization of Cinema. They are (Why? 2013) and (Julia 2014), on the contrary to his film (the tunnel), and he recently finished his own part of the film (Memory Nostalgia), as one of four filmmakers, who are partaking in directing it (produced also by The General Organization of Cinema). Nevertheless, his experience in (Sardine’s trying to fly) remains the most unique and capable of expressing him as a young filmmaker, who is trying to leave his fingerprint. Also, choosing the independency of cinematic production remains a brave and costly choice, not only financially, but also in its capacity to drain all resources and capabilities, to pump them in one condensed timeline, which is loaded with a cinematic and humanitarian anguish, that is extremely demanding and provocative of all its maker’s components as a filmmaker and an independent.