We are in the Syrian city of Homs. A young boy runs off with director Ossana Mohammed’s camera, but just around the corner he is shot and killed by a sniper. It could just as well have been Mohammed lying there.
In 2011, the director decided to remain in Paris after exhibiting some Syria photos at a festival. He was too scared to return. Later, the reflective film Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait was born. The film premiered at Canned this spring where it was the sole Arabic entry. In September, the film was screened in Oslo and Bergen. After an eight-month exile, Mohammed is contacted by Kurdish Wiam Simav Bedirxan in Homs. She travelled from the Kurdish areas in Northern Syria to Homs to provide the world with a visual commentary to the violence.
In the film, Bedirxans’s fear is palpable – she films from alleyways, streets, the balcony, and in meetings with people. At the same time, Mohammed trawls the internet looking for short Syrian mobile phone recordings, which later will be used in the film they chose to make together.
The audience is confronted by all the horrific scenarios filmed by small mobile phone cameras belonging to alive, and possibly deceased, people. Beyond the «1001 excerpts» taken from phones and Bedirxan’s camera, the film is also interspersed with Mohammed’s poetic Paris recordings where he comments on the Syrian situation.
Some of the Homs war photos are well known. Dead people and ruins. We have seen it before, for instance in last year’s documentary Return to Homs. But, Silvered Water is a war film with a difference. This is a personal documentary, a more intimate take on the sufferings and tragedies Syria has experienced for more than three years.
Chaos reigns: To large, dead horse cadavers lie across a pavement. Bedirxan films two smiling school children, who in the next moment are pictured covered by green sheets as if deceased. In a deserted street, we see soldiers drag away two screaming young women. A man with a gunshot wound to his leg is unable to pull himself away from the street, and tries to roll away from the snipers. A couple of barely alive bodies are dragged out of shooting range and towards an open door, using long ropes with steel wired hooks at the ends. They may be able to save someone. Other phone excerpts show torture, beatings, blood trails, mass graves and dead bodies. We hear bombs rumbling, people shouting «freedom» or screaming with fear.
Bedirxan follows a small child who is wandering along the ruins of what used to be a street. The boy says that the sniper high up in the building is not going to shoot him, at the same time we hear Bedirxan explain that she is uploading film excerpts for Paris. Five percent, 20 percent – the boy carries on walking – then 70 percent uploaded. Will he get shot before she reaches 100?
Bedirxan is herself shot. The young woman lies on the bench wailing with pain in both Kurdish and Arabic whilst splinters are pulled out.
War poetry. In the film, Mohammed explains that he and a friend watched Hiroshima Mon Amour, Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras’ commentary to the wastelands after the nuclear bomb. This inspired his friend to start a film club. What type of club would it be, wonders Mohammed: a «Cinema of murder, cinema of victims, cinema of realism, cinema of poetry?». Silvered Water might be the latter. To him, recording people’s cry for freedom revolutionised filmatic images and expressions.
A man is strung upside down, tied to a spade
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