Skip to content

If politics ever dies, the story of refugee artists will never die

Your film, which made the official selection of the main documentary festivals such as Hot Docs, AFI Docs and Watch Docs and which won you the best director award at “Doc LA” and the best film award at “FIC Autor Guadalajara” will be touring worldwide and on multiple platforms like (Apple TV, Google TV, Amazon Prime Video, Vimeo On Demand), after a theatrical release in the United States. Why did you think about the problem of refugees and more specifically those from Syria?

My previous film, All these voices (All these voices), a film about artists after the Second World War releasing the weight of this war, won the Student Academy Award in 2016. That same year there was a short film on the crisis in Lesvos, titled 4.1 miles, which opened my eyes to the fact that the Syrian civil war has caused the largest and longest displacement of people since World War II. My grandparents were World War II survivors. My father was born in a refugee camp after this war. I think that somewhere in this film I was looking for my own roots as well as answers to questions that have always haunted me. How do we deal with war? Survive Survival? How does the artist go about implementing his own immediate traumatic experiences?

This interest, associated with my DNA and pushing me to be interested in the Syrian civil war, led me to start this search for the Picassos or the Bob Dylan of this worst conflict since the Second World War.

Rapper Abu Hajar and choreographer Medhat Aldaabal: when unity is strength. photo creditRaeFilm Studios

What do you think is the status of the refugee when he is marginalized by his own country but also by the whole world?

I think learning about a conflict is in many ways like getting to know a person. You see facts and data from afar, newspaper articles and videos. You get a general idea that there is a war going on and a vague understanding of what it means to be a refugee. Then you see posts, social media, and then eventually artwork, you get a fuller view. But sitting with people who have been in war zones, hanging out together, looking them in the eye and listening to their stories. Learning how Syria treated them even after they left and how the war informs their music and art leads to a new level of understanding. During the making of the film, I learned an incredible amount of things about Syria – and I still learn a great deal about this conflict. But it was the moving songs, the flashes of ironic imagery interpreting those horrors, those movements, those lyrics and those paintings that really pierced me. I fear that over time we tend to forget about conflicts and politics. But I believe that works of art endure, and the cries heard in these works will come to embody the memory of conflict in times to come.

“Freedom Graffiti”, by Tammam Azzam. Photo credit RaeFilm Studios

Medhat Aldaabal, Tammam Azzam, Diala Brisly, Abu Hajar, Bahila Hijazi, Omar Imam, Lynn Mayya, Anas Maghrebi and Mhd Sabboura (BBoy Shadow): these are rappers, singers, dancers, painters visual artists who have chosen to leave their country under the bombardments to raise their voices under other skies. How did you cast these artists and did you meet them before filming?

We left with a structure in mind and with some artists we knew online, on social media and in the news. One thing leading to another, we began to encounter more and more incredibly talented musicians, dancers, and artists who were doing the nearly impossible job of looking positively through the darkness they had fled, without looking away to create their art and make it last. That kind of resilience continually inspired me and made us just be curious about where the story would go. We called on co-producer Abdelaziz Alhamza (interpreter of City of ghosts by Matthew Heineman), and he told me that while I was interested in ways to understand this war in Syria, art in parallel was also used to protest the war. He introduced us to rapper Abu Hajar and visual artist Diala Brisly, who were doing protest art more proactively to raise awareness of what was starting to happen in their home countries.

Photomontage of “Third of May” by Goya directed by Tammam Azzam. Photo credit RaeFilm Studios

The images of “The story won’t die” are very beautiful. They often marry the works of the artists and certain montages confuse the real with the fictitious. Did you shoot scenes in Syria?

The only images from Syria come from the lens of the artists’ own works, as well as Oscar-nominated filmmaker Talal Derki, and images from our co-producer Abdelaziz Alhamza, and his organization of citizen journalists from “Raqqa is being slaughtered silently”. Otherwise the film is like a puzzle made from what these artists inspired me.

Bboy Shadow, also known as Mhd Sabboura. Photo credit RaeFilm Studios

How long have you worked with these artists? Did you stay in contact with them? I imagine their disappointment with the current state of their country?

We filmed from spring 2018 to fall 2019 and continued to be in contact with the artists until today. We worked closely with them to develop the structure of the film. This one invites the public to get to know these brilliant artists and to always hope, even in the darkest hours, when we see how creative resilience can be.

You can learn more about

Your film, which made the official selection of the main documentary festivals such as Hot Docs, AFI Docs and Watch Docs and which won you the best director award at “Doc LA” and the best film award at “FIC Autor Guadalajara” will be touring all over the world and on several platforms such as (Apple TV, Google TV,…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.