The result is a collection of 13 impressive short films shot with mobile phones, showing Syrians’ daily lives, both inside and outside of Syria. The festival’s activities started on the 1st of October and held 10 screenings in Aleppo, Kfaranbel, Jabal al-Zawya, and other areas of the country. Due to safety and security issues, many of the screenings were only locally announced.
One of the people behind the festival is young Syrian filmmaker Amro Kheito, who is also currently working on his upcoming film No Jihad in Here. On the 25th of March 2011, Amro filmed a demonstration and by August that same year, he was a wanted man by the Assad regime. Amro was at home when the feared secret police arrived at his house. They came searching for him with more than 30 men. From a hill behind his house, he started filming the officers. But a neighbour who looked down from his balcony saw him, and started shouting to the police.
“I ran like crazy”, Amro says, “and I forgot that my backpack was still open so I lost my wallet, my passport, my driver’s license and my camera, everything. I had to stop and when they arrested me and brought me to the prison, my mother went crazy and started shouting in front of her house. After ten days I was freed, but I had to come back for one day to sign a declaration that I would not attend or film any demonstrations anymore. I didn’t go and I was in hiding for a year. I thought to myself; whatever it costs, I should record the demonstrations on video, otherwise nobody is going to know about them. I really didn’t want to get arrested. I had so much fear. It is about the message, there is a lot of video material out there. Still every day there are new uploads on YouTube. If I have the chance, I would still film inside Syria but I fled and now together with my friends, I train young people in video production and how to use a mobile phone for filming.”
That work has accumulated in Syria’s very first Mobile Phone Films Festival. Capitalising on the vast amount of audiovisual material and the numerous hours of digital video recorded on mobile phones, the festival is the outcome of months of workshops and trainings inside Syria to teach young aspiring filmmakers how to edit their mobile phone footage into a fully-fledged documentary film. By organising this first mobile phone film festival in the Middle East, these Syrian artists, taking great personal risks in filming, have pioneered in new formats and experimental storytelling to tell Syrian stories and share them with a global audience. Now the festival has closed and the 13 films can be watched online.
THE WINNING FILMS:
“Here is Holland” by Lawand Zaza and Majd al-Hamwi
After a long troublesome journey during which Syrians face challenges from the forces of nature, and – not the least – tough border controls, the lucky ones eventually arrive “safely” at refugee camps in European countries. The camps are their first stop in the new world, away from the war or the mistreatment and lack of opportunities in Syria’s neighbouring countries. This first stop tells us a lot about them, their journey, and what they can expect in their new refuge. “Here is Holland” won the Experimental Documentaries Award and the People’s Choice Award and received 18,000 of 45,000 votes submitted.
“Uncle Abdullah” by Hmoud Jneid
Uncle Abdullah is a short documentary film about an old man in Kafranbel in northern Syria. Expecting an aerial raid on the village, the old man leaves his home every day to go to sit under a tree outside the village. Once he hears the fighter plane noise, he escapes to one of the caves nearby. This situation has been going on for about two years. Those daily escapes have their own impact on the daily life of this old man. Winner of the Short Documentary Award.
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“The Life Chair” by Mohammad Jadaan
A short documentary about the life of a young boy who was paralysed after he was hit by rocket shrapnel. The camera follows his daily life and his relationships with friends and family. The camera also depicts the road where he used to stroll in the past, which he can only take now with his wheelchair. Winner of the Citizen Journalist Film Award.
“For Whom the Bells Toll”
Another short documentary filmed during the official ceremony of the killed soldiers of the National Defence Army in Damascus in 2013. The title is inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s novel with the same name, which was published in 1940. This film won the Experimental Documentaries Award. The filmmaker wishes to remain anonymous.
The awards jury consisted of several renowned Syrian artists: filmmaker Talal Derki, painter and video artist Khalil Younes, and writer and director Ziad Adwan. The festival has also given away six grants through its programme “Shoot Me”, looking to help young filmmakers to produce their films. The grants committee consisted of Maiar al-Roumi, a Syrian filmmaker, Lina Sinjab, a Syrian journalist and filmmaker, and Alma Salem, regional manager for art and cultural projects at the British Cultural Centre. The workshops aimed at providing young citizen journalists and filmmakers with the tools and skills to launch their own mobile phone camera projects.
Syria’s Mobile Phone Films Festival launched its international tour in Bradford, UK, with screenings of the participating films on 28 November 2014. The festival will also have several screenings on the sideline of the “Civil Resistance Tools” exhibition at Fuse Gallery in France, Belgium, Germany, and Washington. There will be other screenings announced later on.
Syria’s Mobile Phone Films Festival will announce a call for submissions for its second awards festival in January 2015.