Festival to offer documentary film grants

Dox Box, a four-year-old, locally-run Syrian documentary film festival, will begin giving away grants to filmmakers this year. The programme is called Tamkeen and is funded by the National Film Organisation, the Dubai International Film Festival and Sura production company. The best Syrian and best two Arab creative documentary film projects that applied to the festival’s film training programme, dubbed Campus, will win the grants.

This year’s festival will be held from March 2 to 10 at various theatres in Damascus, Homs, Tartous and Aleppo.

It will screen a series of films by Syrian filmmaker Omar Amiralay. The internationally-acclaimed filmmaker who passed away this February was active in Damascus’s dissident circles and most of his films are banned. In addition to film screenings, Dox Box is the only local festival to organise film industry events designed to improve the Arab film scene. In addition to Campus, Takween provides an introductory programme to documentary making for inexperienced youth, and Tabadol is a professional networking platform to develop links between regional and Arab professionals and the international film industry players.

“By organising industry events to develop the local film scene, Dox Box is saying that festivals are not only an occasion to screen films. This makes the festival stand out not only in Syria but in the region in general,” Syrian filmmaker Nidal al-Dibs said. “Ten years from now, there will be a generation of filmmakers who will say we started from Dox Box.”

Dibs also said he believes that Dox Box played an important role in reaching out to young Syrians and in changing people’s view of documentaries as solely news related.

“Dox Box shows documentaries as an art form and not journalism,” he said. “This is an important step to establish documentary filmmaking – which has been downplayed lately in the region – as a respectable art form.”

Still, the country’s film industry is grappling with insufficient cinema training and funding, as well as with strict censorship. The National Film Organisation (NFO) and Syrian TV were the sole producers of documentaries in the country through the end of the 1980s. They mostly produced “documentation films” that are closer in form to journalism than to creative documentaries. Although the NFO did fund a few critically-acclaimed Syrian documentaries, these films were censored and never allowed to be screened locally.

Today, eight to 12 documentaries in total are produced in Syria annually. Most are privately granted or commissioned by Arabic or, in some cases, international television stations. Some filmmakers turn to international grants, NGOs and subject-matter relevant grants. However, due to the world financial crisis, arts funding worldwide and in Syria particularly are facing cuts.

For more information about DOX BOX log on to www.dox-box.org

This was published in Syria Today magazine.

Review of El Sicario by Italian filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi

El Sicario by Gianfranco Rosi

Let’s face it! A film shot in a small motel room with a single character who delivers an 80 minutes long monologue while his head is covered with a black sack does not sound like an exciting thing to watch! Yet behind this extremely boring scene lies an extraordinary story of assassination, torture and redemption. Italian filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi gains rare access to an assassin for the Juarez drug cartels in Mexico. With the help of a pen and a sketch book, the assassin reveals the secrets of drug trafficking between Mexico and the United States.  El Sicario (the hit man) draws how he got involved in drug trafficking, acts how he held and tortured his victims in the small motel room and falls down on his knees as he recalls his moment of redemption; an exceptional journey in the psyche of an extraordinary character who manages to capture your attention without looking you in the eye. If you are fond of Mafia stories then El Sicario is the film for you.  But for those who, like me, are not too keen on such anecdotes, you might find it a bit too long.

This review was published in Point of View, DOX BOX international documentary film festival’s gazette. 

Review of Jordanian filmmaker Mahmoud al-Massad’s film “This is My Picture When I Was Dead”

"This is My Picture When I Was Dead" by Mahmoud al-Massad

Father and 4 year-old son are giggling in a car’s front seat. At a red light, masked motorcyclist fires bullets into the car and both father and son are declared dead. Yet, three hours later, the little one is miraculously brought back to life. The father is PLO fighter Mamoun Mraish who was assassinated by the Mossad in 1983.  Jordanian filmmaker Mahmoud al-Massad follows the life of Mraish’s now 32 year-old son Bashir who is following in the footsteps of his father. However, instead of taking up arms, Bashir paints political caricatures.

A touching film story with a title (This is my picture when I was dead) that grabs you by the collar and brings you into the cinema. The stunning opening scene – a video of Israel’s phosphorus bombs lighting the sky of Gaza like fireworks accompanied by an ironic Christmas song- will glue your eyes to the screen.

Yet your initial enthusiasm for the beautifully shot film might be soon dampened. Massad does not delve into Bashir’s character. He gives us little more than what anyone of us might get in a polite chit chat with the man in a formal meeting.  Massad also chooses to go through key events in Mamoun and Palestine’s history, yet deters from giving us more than snapshots that would probably leave viewers who are less familiar with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict confused.

This review was published in Point of View, DOX BOX international documentary film festival’s gazette. 

Review of Chemo and Albert’s Winter by filmmakers Pawel Lozinsk and Andreas Koefoed

Chemo by Pawel Lozinsk

“Am afraid of chemotherapy, even more than cancer!” says one of the cancer patients in Polish filmmaker Pawel Lozinsk’s film Chemo.  Two films in DOX BOX 2011’s film selection, Chemo and Albert’s Winter, revolve around the same theme: cancer. However each looks at it from a different perspective. In Chemo, Lozinsk takes us in a tour in the chemotherapy ward of an oncology clinic. Yet, we never get to see the place itself. Instead, his camera zooms in on the patients as they chat about chemotherapy with the ease of a couple who are discussing the rising prices in a souk. “When you get cancer, you must love it like an unwanted child,” a patient tells her roommate. Together, they joke about cancer, complain to each other and sometimes break into tears.

At some point Lozinsk’s excessive use of close ups becomes suffocating. The window shots that he takes every now and then only serve to further emphasize the sense of being trapped.  He only uses a wide shot when patients leave the ward at the end of the film. Ah… what a relief!

Albert's Winter

In Albert’s Winter, on the other hand, Danish filmmaker Andreas Koefoed observes cancer through the eyes of eight year-old Albert whose mother is undergoing chemotherapy treatment. The beautifully shot film is relaxed and tender. The filmmaker takes a step back and observes Albert just like the little kid is observing his mother’s illness. Koefoed beautifully reflects the child’s inner sense of insecurity, sadness and struggle to accept his mother’s illness through the snow scenes. A deeply touching film.

This review was published in Point of View, DOX BOX documentary film festival’s gazette.

Abayas, Saris and Miniskirts عباءة، ساري وتنورة قصيرة

Scrolling down the page of the Abu Dhabi 2010 team members on the festival’s website, you might find it absurd that almost half of the team (or maybe more?) are foreigners. It is actually fascinating to see this unique group of people in abayas, saris and miniskirts working together. However, with such a huge mix of nationalities involved, what is left from the local identity of the festival?…a lot!

After all, only 20% of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) population is made up of locals – or at least that is what I keep hearing since I arrived at the Abu Dhabi airport. Just like its team, the festival’s film programme greatly reflects the mosaic of nationalities that form the UAE. With a broad mix of Arab, Western, Asian Indian and Pakistani films, the festival is striving to appeal to each of its broad audience’s tastes. This also includes a big verity of genres from docs to fiction, animation, experimental and silent films.

Within this mix you can watch films from countries you don’t usually come across that often in festivals. Take Oman for example; 5 Omani shorts are screened among many other GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) films in the Emirates competition. Why it is still called Emirates competition? I have no idea!

So here is a genuinely intercultural festival with a colourful collection of carefully selected films. Study its programme thoroughly. There is no doubt that you’ll find among its films something to your liking.

This editorial was published in Nisimazine Abu Dhabi 2010, Abu Dhabi film festival’s daily bulletin by Nisi Masa


إن تصفحت لائحة أسماء فريق عمل مهرجان أبو ظبي السينمائي قد تفاجأ بأن نصف الفريق أجنبي (أو ربما أكثر من النصف؟). من المثير، في الواقع، متابعة أعضاء الفريق المختلفين بعباءاتهم، ساريهم وتنانيرهم القصيرة  وهم يعملون جنباً إلى جنب. لكن إلى أي حد يمكن وصف مهرجان يعمل على إدارته هذا الخليط الكبير من الجنسيات المتباينة بالإماراتي؟…… إلى حد بعيد.

في نهاية المطاف، 20% فقط من سكان الإمارات هم من العرب الإماراتيين – أو على الأقل هذا ما يخبرني به، منذ لحظة وصولي إلى أبو ظبي، كل شخص يعرف بأنني قادمة من خارج الإمارات. كمثل الفريق، يعكس برنامج المهرجان هذا الموزاييك من الجنسيات المختلفة التي تشكل معاً المجتمع الإماراتي. يحاول المهرجان من خلال “تشكيلته” الواسعة من الأفلام، التي تتضمن أفلاماً عربية وغربية وآسيوية وهندية وباكستانية، إرضاء كافة أذواق جمهوره المتنوع هذا. كذلك تختلف هذه الأفلام ما بين التسجيلي والروائي والتجريبي والصامت والمتحرك أنيميشن

تتضمن هذه “التشكيلة” أفلاماً من بلدان قلما تصادفها في المهرجانات السينمائية. منها عمان مثلاً. يعرض مهرجان أبو ظبي السينمائي خمسة أفلام عمانية قصيرة وغيرها من الأفلام الخليجية ضمن مسابقة الإمارات. لكن لماذا تدعى إذاً بمسابقة الإمارات؟ لا أملك أدنى فكرة عن السبب.

إذاً ها هنا مهرجان متعدد الثقافات بجدارة ويعرض أفلاماً متنوعة ومختارة بدقة. أمعن النظر في برنامجه فما من شك بأنك ستجد ضمنه فيلماً يعجبك.

نشرت هذه المادة في مجلة نيسيمازين، وهي النشرة اليومية لمهرجان أبو ظبي السينمائي الصادرة عن شبكة نيسي ماسا للنقاد الأوروبيين.

Can you drive a car? هل تستطيعين القيادة؟

During the women and cinema workshop at Dox Box film fest, we had several seminars dealing with gender issues. In one of these seminars one of my colleagues told us that it’s only when driving that she feels free! Because while driving, she is the one who leads her way, she decides when to stop the car, when to start it and where to go! Her statement made me really think to what extent do we, Arab women, have control over our lives? (My second thought was, MY GOD, I can’t even drive a car!)

Till death set us apart!

“A woman only leaves her house twice, first to her husbands’ home and then to her grave.”
It’s a saying I often heard as a child from neighbors and I can’t help wondering how did it develop? It can’t be derived from religion because not only was the first wife of Prophet Mohammad a very successful and rich merchant, she was also his advisor. It must be the outcome of the patriarchal mindset of Syrian society.

Not anymore…

This saying is no longer true in most parts of Syria and the Arab World, mainly because of economical reasons as one salary is no longer enough to put food on the table and therefore women became an important workforce. Nevertheless, we can still find the traces of it in the everyday life of women in Syria whose lives are still controlled by these two houses “her parent’s house” and “her husband’s” but never her own!

A Syrian woman still needs the permission of one of her male family members to get married in court, she still needs a Syrian husband to give the Syrian nationality to her kids and it’s socially still unacceptable for her to live independently in any house other than her parents’ or husband’s house.

This is why workshops on gender and sidebars like “voices of women” are important events. They are the tools to raise awareness concerning women’s rights and help women get a better knowledge of themselves, their own agency and autonomy. So women don’t back up, changing the mindset of a whole society is not easy, but just look how many women are driving cars in the Arab world.


لقد شاركنا في العديد من حلقات البحث في موضوع الجندر (النوع الاجتماعي) خلال ورشة “المرأة و السينما” التي نظمتها “أيام سينما الواقع”. في إحدى هذه الجلسات أخبرتنا زميلة لنا أنها لا تشعر بالحرية إلا أثناء قيادتها للسيارة لأنها من يقرر الطريق الذي تريد أن تسلكه و المكان الذي تريد الذهاب إليه. هي وحدها من تدير محرك سيارتها و هي من توقفه! لقد دفعني تعليقها إلى التساؤل إلى أي مدى نستطيع كنساء عربيات التحكم بحياتنا؟ (الفكرة الثانية التي خطرت في بالي هي “يا إلهي، إنني حتى لا أعرف قيادة سيارة!”)

إلى أن يفرقنا الموت!

“المرأة لا تغادر منزلها إلا مرتين، مرة إلى منزل زوجها و مرة إلى القبر”
لقد سمعت عدة مرات خلال طفولتي الجيران يرددون هذا المثل و لا يسعني إلا التساؤل كيف تشكل هذا المثل؟ هو بالتأكيد ليس مأخوذاً عن الدين فقد كانت زوجة الرسول الأولى، إضافة إلى عملها كتاجرة ناجحة و غنية، مستشارة للرسول الذي كثيراً ما كان يأخذ برأيها! لابد و أن هذا المثل هو نتيجة للعقلية البطرياركية التي تسود المجتمع السوري.

ليس بعد الآن…

هذا المثل لم يعد صحيحاً في أغلب مناطق سوريا و العالم العربي، و يعود ذلك بشكل أساسي للمتغيرات الإقتصادية إذ لم تعد العائلة السورية، بشكل عام، قادرة على العيش على راتب واحد مما دفع المرأة نحو سوق العمل. على الرغم من ذلك فإن آثار هذه العقلية ما تزال ملموسة في الكثير من تفاصيل الحياة اليومية للمرأة السورية التي مازالت حياتها تحت سيطرة هذين المنزلين، منزل الأهل و الزوج و ليس منزلها الخاص.

إن المرأة السورية لازالت بحاجة لموافقة ولي أمرها لإتمام عقد زواجها، و لا زالت بحاجة لزوج سوري لإعطاء الجنسية السورية لأطفالها، و مازال استقلالها في منزل غير منزل والديها أو زوجها مرفوضاً اجتماعياً.

انطلاقاً من ذلك فإن عقد ورشات عمل حول موضوع الجندر و تظاهرات كتظاهرة “صوت المرأة” هو أمر بالغ الأهمية للتوعية بحقوق المرأة و خاصة حقها في تمثيل نفسها و أن تكون صاحبة القرار في أمورها الشخصية. لذلك أيها النساء لا تتراجعن، تغيير عقلية مجتمع كامل ليس بالأمر السهل، لكن فقط انظرن كم من النساء يقدن السيارات!

نشرت هذه المادة في”وجهة نظر” النشرة اليومية الصادرة عن مهرجان سينما الواقع للأفلام الوثائقية. لتحميل كامل النشرة أنقر هنا