Syrian Snapshots: We started with hope and ended with despair

June 2, 2014

By Greta Hofmann

From left: Vaughan Smith, Paul Lowe,  Charif Kiwan, Remy Ourdan and Patrick Chauvel at the Frontline Club.

From left: Vaughan Smith, Paul Lowe, Charif Kiwan, Remy Ourdan and Patrick Chauvel at the Frontline Club.

At the screening of Syria – Snapshots of History in the Making on Thursday 29 May at the Frontline Club, host Vaughan Smith was joined by Abounaddara Films producer Charif Kiwan, former Le Monde editor and founder of the WARM Foundation Remy Ourdan, and photographers Patrick Chauvel and Paul Lowe, for a pre-screening discussion as well as a Q&A after the film. The journalists, all members of the WARM foundation dedicated to war reporting and war art, discussed the impact and importance of reporting from conflict zones leading up to the documentary.

When asked to first of all introduce the concept of WARM to the audience, Remy Ourdan explained:

“We all came together for the ‘Sarajevo 2012’ reunion of war reporters, and we founded WARM because nothing like it existed yet; there was no project about all conflicts and about bringing together reporters of different backgrounds.”

Patrick Chauvel added:

“The main idea is that we don’t want the stories to stay only in the news. . . . We don’t want hear people saying anymore, ‘We didn’t know.’ People used to say that a lot, especially in 1944. Today, with projects like that, you can say, ‘I didn’t want to know,’ but then you’re responsible for what you don’t know.”

One of the projects collaborating with WARM that wants to make sure that people are well informed is Abounaddara Films, a group of Syrian filmmakers that through their short films want to offer a counter-perspective to the mainstream coverage of the revolution. Charif Kiwan explained:

“Mainstream media failed to represent our society with dignity, so we took to the internet to tell our own story. We release one short documentary every Friday. We are all volunteers and we release the films anonymously and without any funding. So far we have released around 160 films. Tonight’s feature film was made with these short films.”

The dangers of misrepresentation by the media as well as the question of how the coverage of war changed, which Kiwan mentioned, were then discussed by the panel, with Patrick Chauvel suggesting that:

“Technology today makes reporting easier. You have the people from the country who are the first to report, which I think is great although some reporters say it kills the job. . . . When I see people with their phones in the crowd filming for me it’s like somebody calling me saying, ‘Can you please come and help us.’ In the end we’re all a team.”

Paul Lowe added:

“There’s always a kind of conflict between the commercial aspect of what you do as a journalist and the ethical aspect. What that actually does, though, is to drive you to go and find stories that are unique and original; so what you eventually get is a network of witnesses.”

After the film, which featured the daily lives of Syrians during the war in one-on-one interviews as well as exclusive shots from the conflict itself, Abounaddara producer Charif Kiwan answered questions on the documentary, with one audience member asking whether there was a way for everyone to support the project. He replied:

“What is most important is that we tell the media, ‘We are here and you cannot tell our story as you like.’ It’s also important that people keep sharing the films and therefore signify that they agree with what we’re doing.”

In the end one audience member asked if and how Kiwan‘s view on the revolution has changed and how that is reflected in the film, to which he gave a simple answer:

“We started filming demonstrators in the streets and ended with filming Islamists; we started with filming the sky and ended with the earth; we started with hope and ended with despair.”

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