How war and political opposition have hurt and changed the landscape of Syrian film.
Photo courtesy of Najdat Anzour
Last year, in a show of support for the opposition to Bashar al-Assad, TV networks in Qatar and other Gulf countries began refusing to broadcast Syrian-made films and TV series linked to the regime, leading to a huge drop in the number of scripts being produced by studios.
The censorship was a blow to Najdat Anzour, a leading Syrian director who’s best known for Al-Hour al-Eyn (Beautiful Virgins), a 2005 film that vilified suicide bombers and terrorists. He also made the news in 2007, when it was announced that he was slated to direct a film based on a screenplay by Muammar Gaddafi, which was later revealed to be funded by $50 million of the dictator’s personal fortune (that project has since been scrapped, duh).
I dialed up Najdat and found out he’s keen for more creative freedom, but also opposes the FSA rebels who are fighting against a regime that he believes has had a spotty record on free speech, to say the least. It was all very confusing, just like the conflict at hand.
VICE: Najdat, how has your life changed since the beginning of the civil war?
Najdat Anzour: First off, it’s not a civil war – it’s an international war, organised by other authorities against Syria. It’s a war between terrorist gangs and the Syrian people, and it’s still spreading chaos. It seems like that’s what was intended when this war was started: to turn Syria into a chaotic, unstable country; affect peoples’ work and ambitions; and put us all in a climate of fear.
You truly believe that is what’s happening at the moment? Not that they are actually revolutionaries fighting for freedom?
Yes, and there’s no room for a grey zone anymore. People need to know about the conspiracy against our country and who it is that’s trying to stab it in the heart. A huge number of Syrians want change, a move toward more freedom of expression and democracy, and whoever creates a boundary against Syria’s development and modernisation needs to be disposed of.
Do you have plans to make any series or films about this supposed misunderstanding?
Not directly about that, no, but I’m currently preparing a dramatic series about the events in Syria and their direct effects on Syrian youth. Productions like mine contribute to eventually creating dialogue and discussion that will help immunise individuals against extremist Salafi ideas. Or at least make them think about what they’re doing instead of just blindly doing it.
How would you like to see the situation in Syria work itself out?
I’m personally hoping for more creative freedom and less fear, lies, favouritism and tyranny. All we can do is challenge what’s in front of us.
Has the boycott on Syrian TV and films in the Gulf made you and other directors hesitant about continuing to work?
No, there are still a lot of Syrian artists who have stayed on and given up a great deal of their personal income in an effort to keep working on local drama. We criticise the corruption, encourage development and call for national unity. That’s how Syrian drama always is: pioneering and courageous.
For an overview of the issues that have fueled the conflict in Syria, we recommend reading "Road to Ruin", our condensed timeline of Syrian history, and "The VICE Guide to Syria", a crash course on the country's geopolitical, cultural and religious complexities.