Filmmakers under the thumb
In Syria, the Culture Ministry dismisses top filmmakers from government posts because of their political views, writes Bassel Oudat from Damascus
Three filmmakers fired more than a week ago from their posts with the General Organisation for Cinema (GOC), a subsidiary of the Syrian Ministry of Culture, say that the decision was political and that the ministry is acting on orders from the security services of the embattled regime.
One of the filmmakers, Osama Mohamed, 59, delivered a speech at the Cannes Film Festival last year in which he denounced the Syrian authorities and their repressive actions.
The GOC denies the charges, saying that it fired Mohamed, who has not returned to Syria since Cannes, because of absenteeism.
The suggestion is ridiculous, artists who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly say. In fact, the GOC has no attendance regulations and filmmakers are only required to produce a certain amount of work to keep their jobs.
Mohamed is one of dozens of Syrian filmmakers who signed statements supporting the popular revolution. Speaking on a panel discussion held on the sidelines of the Cannes Film Festival in 2011, he accused the Syrian authorities of killing civilians and repressing national aspirations.
"The people in Deraa, who had their nails pulled, were my people. So are the people of Homs, who are coming under bombardment. The ethics of my profession cannot be separated from human rights. With so much killing and bloodshed, detention and intimidation going on, what is a government's job worth?" Mohamed told the Weekly.
"Throughout my film career, I never bowed to pressure from the cinematic or political authorities. I see the ruling regime as an enemy of culture, freedom and humanity. My dismissal is only a result of the hijacking of Syrian culture by mercenaries," Mohamed added.
Syrian filmmaker Orwa Nirbeya wants all filmmakers to stop working for the government.
"Before the GOC takes more security-inspired measures, I suggest that Syrian filmmakers show immediate solidarity and announce their collective resignation. The GOC is acting in solidarity with the intelligence services, so let us act in solidarity with one another," Nirbeya said.
Syrian authorities have arrested many filmmakers in the past, including Nedal Hassan, Feras Fayyad, Ghassan Abdallah and Rim Al-Ghazi.
Others have left the country, including Haitham Haqqi, Mohamed Malas, Nabil Al-Maleh, Hala Al-Abdallah and Wahat Al-Rahim.
Last month, filmmaker Basel Shehada was killed in Homs while training pro-revolutionary volunteers on filming techniques.
Since the revolution broke out nearly 14 months ago, the Syrian security authorities have systematically assaulted artists and intellectuals who stand for freedom and democracy.
In May 2011, More than 1,000 artists from around the world voiced support for an anti-government manifesto released by top Syrian filmmakers. Meanwhile, the Syrian filmmakers who signed the manifesto were denounced as treasonous by artists loyal to the government.
During the Deraa siege last year, 400 artists issued a statement calling for the siege to be lifted. Days later, 22 film production companies issued a statement denouncing the signatories for "defaming the people and government of Syria".
Last summer, Syrian authorities arrested dozens of Syrian filmmakers who took part in a sit-in in Damascus in support of the protesters.
Syrian opposition members say that the Artists' Syndicate in Syria is fully under government control and that its sole purpose is to impose government control on cultural life. Over the past year or so, opposition artists have been forming new syndicates and associations, independent from the government.
The Syrian revolution was named a guest of honour in more than one Arab film festival, including the Ismailia Film Festival in Cairo and the Doha Film Festival. Meanwhile, filmmakers in Egypt and other Arab countries have boycotted the Damascus Film Festival, leading to its cancellation.
Late last year, opposition filmmakers organised an independent event, called the First Free Syria Film Festival. The event, featuring documentaries and feature films about the revolution, was staged on the Internet, for security reasons.