Simon Safieh…Our Life (is a can of Sardine)

Al-Akhbar Newspaper – Ali Wajih, Tuesday 17 March 2015

From The Faculty Of Political Sciences and The Tatous Cinema Club, comes Simon Safieh. The Syrian filmmaker, born in 1988, is a part of a new generation, and was introduced to a commanding cinematic passion early on. He did not let the absence of a Higher Institute for Cinema in his country discourage him, so he relied on personal effort and diligence.

After a number of workshops, he worked with Joud Saeed as a co-filmmaker trainee on the movie (My Last Friend 2012), then as co-director in (On the wait for fall) (Not shown yet).

Filming locations knew him also in (29 February 2012) by Al-Muhannad Kulthom, (Violet Fires) (Preliminary name, not shown yet) by Muhammad Abd Al-Azeez and (The Bus) (Not shown yet) by Youssef Al-Youssef. Soon enough, Simon inaugurated his own filmography with the experimental film (Not just an apple 2012-1 min), then deferred to feature films in (WHY? 2013-8 min-General Organization of Cinema-Youth Cinema Support project). In this film, some of the upcoming signs in the work of this young filmmaker can be foreseen. Its scenario by Aktham Deeb follows a love story in a coastal atmosphere. It discusses the issue of civil marriage, in a surreal space, with the help of classical cuts in direction.

(Why?) can be considered a necessary transformative phase, with all its ups and downs, in Safieh’s mode of thinking, and the way he looks at things in life. A year later, he came back with (Julya 2014-16 minutes. General Organization of Cinema-Youth Cinema Support project). Here, He matured on various levels, from script writing to direction, methodology and scenery structuring. With dexterity, a calm structure and few words, he captures the consequences of the brutal rape, which was experienced by (Julya) in the course of the Syrian war…even though it is kept secret by many closed households and among broken families. With this film, Simon won an award for best direction in (The first Cinema and Short Films Festival) in Damascus last year, and he is preparing to participate in the official contest of the first (Alexandria Festival for short films) (7-12 April 2015) in Egypt. Concerning documentaries, Safieh made (The Tunnel 2013-25 min. Poor Film), Following the lives of Syrian refugees, who inhabit a pedestrian tunnel in Tartous. (Poor Film) continued its pursuit to make Syrian independent films. Finally, it struck again with the long narrative film (Sardine’s trying to fly), which was the first for Simon Safieh, both in writing and direction. His film (Julya) will participate in the Festival of Alexandria next month.

His film "Julia" will participate in the Alexandria Festival next month
In a semi-secret fashion, the camera rolled in Tartous once again. We are presented with two plot lines in the heart of the Syrian tragedy: A narrative line the follows the school teacher, Firass Muhammad, who seeks to regain the (alive) status after being officially declared dead, and a documentary line through Firass’s friend, the filmmaker Ward, who is looking with his camera for a different cinematic identity. Between feature and documentary, each of the two men searches for a new existence. Thence, comes the question: (what if all who died, came back to life?). In this film, Safieh handles the camera himself, with the help of Ward Haider and Mahran Youssef. The performers are: Muhammad Abd-Allah Ali, Muhsen Abbas, Nancy Khoury, Ward Haider, Nour Ghanem, Rami Al-Khatib and Ali Mansour. In his interview with (Al-Akhbar), Safieh goes back to the beginning:
(I spent two years working on another project, from writing a scenario to choosing an actor for the lead role, and deciding on an estimated budget. Suddenly, the question popped in my head: What if the dead came back to life? I inquired from an attorney about the necessary legal procedures, had that actually happened, then I stayed writing for three consecutive days). Safieh Adds: (Three month of preparing for a new production, followed by a month of filming in my hometown). In an interesting attempt, Simon’s Poor film tried, with the help of some friends, to collect this film’s budget through group funding.
The important quest, that might be a magical solution to launching the new Syrian independent film industry, has failed considerably. What is the solution then? Sfieh answers: (Mahran Youssef offered the equipment for free. The actors worked without pay. My family contributed a large sum to the filming expenses. Numbers do not matter in the face of all this love). We asked about the title. Where did it come from? Safieh clarifies: (A creature that tries since birth to breath above water. It moves in swarms, and it is captured in swarms. It goes out of the water for the first time and clashes with death, then it is canned and shelved with an expiration date. That sounds a lot like our lives. In essence, how does (Sardine’s trying to fly) compare to his previous films? What does it suggest anew? Safieh says: (Like in Julya, I follow a specific individual, trying to engulf the different aspects of his story. Apart from that, we are on the verge of a completely different state; Death invading life. Firass is a teacher and a lover, who comes back to life after three years. He examines the turn-up of affairs in his small circle (Family, girlfriend, friends), and the larger circle (City, Country).
Simon adds: (my coming work might be about presenting the environment of (The Syrian Coast) in a newfound realist prospective, which has never been done before). Safieh continues about filmmaking: (I tried staying away from the usual cutting rules, breaking the axiom and so forth. This decision came with the idea itself, and the intertwinement between feature and documentary. The reality is present as it was, from filming locations to the language of characters. Safieh concludes his interview with us by saying: (We are currently in a video editing camp –synthesis and graphics by Ibrahim Melhem- and are working despite the electricity shortage. We are using our batteries to the last ampere. There is some confusion, and a lot of fun).