An Act of Atonement: Syrian Refugees in Film Festivals  

A scene from the “Mare Nostrum” Film - (Internet)

A scene from the “Mare Nostrum” Film - (Internet)



The issue of Syrian refugees has been strongly present in the worlds of politics, relief, and civil community. Art pioneers also found in refugees a rich material, through which, they chose to embody their own creativity and to give the Syrian refugee’s voice, exhausted by the dismal conditions of immigration and displacement, a channel to speak, to say.

Between the desire to show personal creativity and the need to represent a stifled voice, many films came to life. Some of the produced films became globally famous and occupied a space in the international film festivals; other movies did not influence the world, but they left a definite humanitarian trace.

In the past a few years, immigration by sea became one of the most fundamental problems which the international community has been trying to solve, especially when 400 thousand Syrian refugees reached the European continent threatening their safety while searching for a safe place, searching for security.

The risk taken by Syrians triggered Arab and foreign producers to make films, which manifest the Syrians’ suffering in their journey of death, including the Syrian-French movie, ‘Mare Nostrum,’ currently participating in Tangier International Film Festival in Morocco from the 2nd to 7th of October.

The film, only 13 minutes long, takes place on one of the Mediterranean’s shores. There, a Syrian father takes a fatal decision to undergo a death journey to Europe, a journey which might end his daughter’s life.

The film is a French-Syrian-Jordanian joint production written and directed by Rana Kazkaz and Anas Khalaf, representing Ziad Bakri and Zayan Khalaf.

‘Mare Nostrum’ won eight awards, including Best Short Film at the BBC Arabic Film Festival in London, and the first prize at the European Film Festival in Van, France.

With the same force and affection, the issue of the Syrian refugees attracted a number of Syrian writers and directors. These carried the case to the world and won prestigious awards, such as ‘Moon in the Skype’ film by the Syrian director Ghattafan Ghanoum, in which he tells the stories of Syrian people’s hope and failure to reach the European heaven.

‘Moon in the Skype’ carried its director to Hollywood. In June 2016, he won the award for the Best Documentary Film in Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards hosted in Charles Chaplin hall at Raleigh Studios, in the United States.

In an interview with Enab Balad, the director Ghanoum said “Every success for any Syrian in all fields is a success for all Syrians,” adding that “success is shared by all. So, when I hear of Syrians’ success, I become happy and gratified, which definitely indicates that freedom is the foundation of any success.”

Syrians’ Pain is a Source of Inspiration

The life in the tents, homelessness, and suffering in the countries of refuge have become a part of the Syrian’s reality after five million Syrians had immigrated to neighbouring countries — 500 thousand Syrians live in border camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.

Documentaries and cinema producers found in the camps a theatre to launch their productions through a number of films representing the suffering of the camps’ people and attracting the world’s attention to their stories. Among these productions is the Turkish documentary called  “Iki Milyon”(Two Million)—In 2016, the number of Syrians in Turkey reached the 2,5 million.  The film tells the story of Syrians in Turkey and the way they are holding on to life.


‘Two Million’ movie was nominated for the Best Film at the ReelHeART International Film Festival in Canada, taking place in the period from the 3ed to the 8th of July. The film attracted the attention of cinema producers for being inspired by the real stories of Syrian people.

Derin Parakta, the film’s director, told the Anadolu Agency on July 1, that she and the film’s team focused on Syrians’ serious suffering to represent it in an artistic manner and to show it to the whole world.

In Lebanon, Karim Rahbani directed a film entitled “Cargo” in which he discussed the issue of the Syrian children who are beginning on the Lebanese streets. Last week, the film participated in Tangier International Film Festival in Morocco.

The film represents the dilemma of the Syrian child who fled with his grandfather to Lebanon in an illegal manner in a truck, escaping the conflicts in his town.

The boy is forced to beg on the streets of the city to provide Alzheimer medications for his grandfather so that he does not die.

Refugee Films as a Form of Atonement

Art critics see that tackling the life of Syrian refugees has been attractive for the past three years for producers and directors alike.  This year the pace has gone down and most of the works exhibited in the festivals of 2017 belong to previous years.

To Enab Baladi, Waseem Al-Sharqy, a Syrian writer and theatre director, said that the producers focus on films specializing in the life of Syrian refugees apart from the other issues caused by the war in Syria is due to logistic and technical reasons. Directors can reach and photograph refugees while it is impossible for them to get in touch with the reality of Syrians inside the country.

Most of the works, addressing the refugees’ suffering, he said, are often executed with a European financial support given to cinema and documentaries’ pioneers, as the issue of asylum has become linked to Europe, which experienced an unprecedented wave of immigration by the end of 2015.

He said that this is a part of Europe’s mechanism to atone for its guilt towards the Syrian refugees by presenting their stories internationally and declaring a sense of solidarity with them.

About the role and the efficiency of these films, he said: “It is enough that their messages are noble in terms of principles, even if they don’t achieve the desired goal.”

This is how the issue of the Syrian refugees has become among other inspirational ideas in the world of artistic production, along with woman and child rights and human rights in general, awaiting the reverberation and change in the lives of the people in refugee camps.

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