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The movies premiered at Cinema Palace, in the heart of Brussels, on October 16 and will now be available on YouTube and for screenings around the world. The projection was followed by a debate with some of the protagonists, directors and staff working on the movies and moderated by DW journalist Jaafar Abdul-Karim.
The movies were co-funded by the European Union and Germany to give Syrians a voice to talk about the issues they face as a consequence of the conflict. Syrians are too often mistakenly seen just as numbers or as an homogeneous group of refugees. How do they carry on with their lives? How do they build their future?
The directors followed three stories of Syrians who lived the conflict in very different ways. Still, upon watching the movies one after the other for the first time, it was clear that the leitmotiv of exile – while unplanned for – inevitably and naturally emerged.
Yet, the movies also portray Syrians who resisted and fought – in a peaceful way by being active in their social environment – for their right to live in a free country, said Syrian journalist and director Ali Atassi, who oversaw the artistic direction of the movies. They all paid a high price.
Marwa and Saleh, the protagonists of "We will return, my love", tried until the very last moment to stay in Syria despite being evacuated from their hometown of Aleppo to Idlib and then further north to escape the bombings. In the movie they are constantly on the move to save their lives, never shown sitting or still, and they never seem to give up on their dream of returning to their hometown until the birth of their daughter makes them realise that there is no safe future for them inside Syria.
"I chose to call myself a refugee to remind myself of where I come from," said Ula – the protagonist of "Gharsa" – during the debate following the screening. "I didn't decide to leave, I was forced to leave," she added speaking of how she dreams of returning home one day. A dream she knows it will be almost impossible to achieve unless her basic rights, freedoms and safety will be respected.
"Everyone who left was forced to do so," says poet and novelist Khaled Khalifeh in "Exiled at Home". Khaled – a famous intellectual – decided to stay in his hometown of Damascus while everyone around him had to flee the country. "But it's not his hometown anymore. It is full of strange faces," said movie director Lina Sinjab. Lina, a Syrian journalist and filmmaker, followed Khaled for years, filming his solitude and the way he ended up being isolated in his own city. A dark city that became unfamiliar, where even those who decided to stay had to pay the high price of giving up on their dignity and freedom, with about sixty per cent of the population living in extreme poverty, Lina said.
At a time when Syrians are often spoken of – either as refugees or as pawns in the war – and the world is tired of a conflict that dragged itself for eight years, Syrians rarely have a chance to express what they want to say, to speak out loud of how they want to define themselves, their dreams, sorrows and aspirations. Filming, documenting, portraying their own narrative is fundamental for their present and future.
"When the revolution was defeated and the civil war and the 'game of nations' over Syria started, Syrians lost control over their future. We might have lost a battle, but as intellectuals, journalists, filmmakers we will never lose the battle for the narrative of what happened and what was done to our country and our people," concluded Ali Atassi.
For more information on the films and the filmmakers, visit https://eeas.europa.eu/they-are-syria
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