The joint Syrian-Spanish documentary “Hamidiyeh is not the Only Street” generated plenty of discussion when it aired at the Cervantes Institute in Damascus on September 16.
“Hamidiyeh represents the typical image of Syria abroad as a conservative, closed country,” Sham Sharif, a Syrian filmmaker who directed the film with her Spanish husband Pablo Morales Canedo, said. “Through documenting the life of Mais, a modern woman who leads a life similar to that of her Spanish counterparts, we want to show an image of Syria different from what Spanish people have in mind.”
From left to right Sham Sharif, Mais and Pablo Morales Canedo
The film is constructed of random shots of the capital’s famous Souk Hamidiyeh, juxtaposed against images of Mais’ life. Sharif and Canedo frequently humour their audience with a Hamidiyeh where men walk around in Hezbollah T-shirts, women covered in black buy seductive lingerie in the open street and religious books are sold on the same shelf as others talking about sex. Not all is lighthearted, however, as the filmmakers show their audience a place where 10- year-old children work to make a living.
Amid these often controversial images we meet Mais, a young Syrian woman who challenges the stereotypical image of Arab women frequently presented in the West. She goes to discos (but has to be home at midnight), buys miniskirts and succeeds, despite her parents’ refusal, to become a photographer and act in the documentary. At the end of the film, however, Mais joins the crowds of Souk Hamidiyeh and reveals that her ultimate dream is not so radical – to get married and have children.
“We don’t want to give answers or reach a conclusion at the end of the film,” Canedo said. “Rather, we want to provoke ideas and reflections by presenting different and contradictory photos and leave the audience to decide for themselves.”
In a heated discussion with Sharif and Canedo following the screening of “Hamidiyeh is not the Only Street”, many in the audience challenged the filmmakers’ notions of liberal and conservative Damascus.
“I don’t think Mais is more liberal than the people of Hamidiyeh, they are two different faces of the same coin,” a young girl from the audience said. “Being open and modern is not about going to discos or buying miniskirts; this is a very shallow approach to such a complex issue.”