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Films About Syrian Civil War Move From Online To New York Gallery


Switching gears now, it's been difficult for outsiders to get a full picture of the Syrian war. Mostly we've seen it through the images of extreme violence and refugees streaming into Europe. But a Syrian film collective is showing the inside, personal view of the war. The group, Abounaddara, has posted more than 300 short documentaries. Now it's been recognized with a prestigious prize and a showing at The New School in New York. NPR's Deborah Amos was there and sent this report.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: And the winner is A Man With Glasses. That's the English translation of Abounaddara, a collective of Syrian filmmakers. This award recognizes its provocative lens on the Syrian conflict. Short videos, from one to six minutes, that tell hidden stories of the war. Charif Kiwan, spokesman for the group, says the short format is intimate and powerful.

CHARIF KIWAN: We choose short format because we wanted to punch people.

AMOS: Punch people.

KIWAN: Yes, we want the viewer to be disturbed.

AMOS: One of the shortest films is striking. A train approaches billowing smoke. It's an arresting image - a familiar sound - then the screen goes blank. A stark sign commands - stop watching, we are dying.

KIWAN: What we try to do is to play with the mystery in order to invite people to look for information about Syria.

AMOS: The films are projected on the white walls of this gallery, where viewers watch raw and wrenching interviews - a sniper, who says he's killed 600 people, a father who cries when he recounts how his young son mimicked the violence of the Islamic State. The stories are presented without judgment or labels - no Sunni or Alawite, no Kurd or Christian. These are human stories missing from mainstream news coverage says Rowan Katz, a student at The New School.

ROWAN KATZ: Did I think much about Syrians before I saw these films? No. Do I think about Syrians a lot now? Absolutely.

AMOS: Charif Kiwan, Abounaddara's spokesman, is critical of what he calls the media's spectacle of war. You in the West, he says, only show Syrians crying, fighting and dying. You'd be more sensitive if it was your own people. Abounaddara's films rarely show the dead.

KIWAN: Death is red line for us.

AMOS: Death is a red line?

KIWAN: Yes, it is. In the street, if you see a dead man, you don't stop and look at him. You try to cover him. You try to call the ambulance. We have to respect death.

AMOS: The overload of violent images, broadcast by the Syrian regime, the Islamic State and even by the Western media, desensitizes us to the human suffering, he insists.

KIWAN: The danger is - you finish by telling yourself, those people are not like us. They are dying all the time, so life is not very important in their country - maybe because their religion is different, maybe because they are different. They are not totally a human being like me.

AMOS: Abounaddara's work documents everyday life - courageous, funny, sometimes terrifying portraits of ordinary Syrians that could be you or me.

KIWAN: What idea for us is idea which can break the wall of the indifference.


AMOS: In this scene, shot in a dark and underground shelter, a beautician continues a class despite the bombs. War or no war, we're still hip, right, she says, as she demonstrates how to create an elegant wedding hairdo without electricity but with volumes of hairspray to keep it in place.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Arabic).

AMOS: Deborah Amos, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.