Enab Baladi Exclusive
Among the daily news from southern Damascus about ongoing negotiations with the Syrian regime, creative initiatives are emerging that reflect residents’ insistence that life must go on despite the pressures and the siege.
“Southern Sketch” is a series of episodes from southern Damascus with a comedic, satirical feel. The first episode, titled “Public Statement #1” was shown on 9 January 2017 and portrayed the regime’s “victories” in eastern Aleppo in a satirical manner.
According to the director, Fares Khattab, the primary targets of “Southern Sketches” are the al-Assad regime and its allied militias. Speaking to Enab Baladi, he explained that the episodes examine the mistakes made by the regime and its forces in a sarcastic manner. The episodes also cover the mistakes and excesses within revolutionary circles including negative aspects that undermine it, and here “criticism is constructive rather than mocking.”
A Team of Amateurs and Activists
The first episode of the series was two minutes long and took over two hours to film. It was produced by a team of 15 people, as well as two actors, performing different roles from writing the script and developing the concept to editing, filming, directing and managing the lighting on set. All of the people involved in the project are from the southern area that is currently under siege.
“Our tools are primitive and we seek to set a new example from southern Damascus that addresses and highlights some issues,” said the director. Khattab works with the team to develop ideas according to a program and work plan, “But the priority goes to events that require a quick response.” Khattab points out that the work plan, “will be either weekly or monthly, according to the difficulty of working in the area and the minimal resources available.”
Regarding the gap between the two episodes, Khattab explained, “This is necessary in order to prepare and develop the concept properly.” He did not study theatre or directing but he and his colleagues implement their ideas after they are agreed on by everyone, in a “youth-led effort to develop ideas and add an artistic touch to them,” as he puts it.
As with any work produced in a besieged area, the Southern Sketches team faces multiple obstacles including not having a professional camera. Khattab points out that the training before each episode takes an estimated four days and “requires electricity, which is not available in the area.”
Filming for the first episode took over two hours, as the director explains. The team faces difficulties in finding the outfits and props needed for the scenes, which forced them to take out certain ideas or modify them according to what is available in the area.
Syrian journalist Walid Agha from southern Damascus sees that “Southern Sketches is a good step because it is the first show of its kind, even if it comes a bit late.” Speaking to Enab Baladi, he asserted that anything that is unfamiliar and different from the daily political and social news “is welcome”.
Discussing the first episode, Agha commented that presenting politics in a dramatic, satirical or slightly critical way is fun and constructive at the same time. He sees the work as “brilliant if we consider the limited resources and tools available to the production team.”
With more episodes to come, the team seeks to develop the comedy production further and use tools to improve the quality of the work. “Perhaps it will become a real theatrical production in the future if the situation allows,” commented Khattab. His comments come at a time when the residents of southern Damascus are threatened with displacement or military escalation if they reject the regime’s conditions, which the regime insists on as part of the reconciliation agreements.