Friday, September 19, 2014

Kurdish Activist Co-Directs Powerful Syria Documentary

Director Wiam Simav Bedirxan (L) with producer Ossama Mohammed at Cannes Film Festival. Photo: AFP
Director Wiam Simav Bedirxan (L) with producer Ossama Mohammed at Cannes Film Festival. Photo: AFP
TORONTO, Canada—A Kurdish activist is at the heart of a searing new documentary that uses over 1,000 clips of raw mobile phone footage to depict the brutality of the Syrian war.

Silvered Water, Syria’s Self-Portrait is co-directed by Wiam Simav Bedirxan, a pacifist and amateur filmmaker who becomes the eyes of the conflict for a famous exiled Syrian director, Ossama Mohammed. From France, where he collects footage of the war via social media sites that are used in the film, Mohammed relies on Bedirxan to film life in Syria as the country descended into violence and chaos.

In this powerful film using shots from 2011 to 2014, Bedirxan remains in her hometown of Homs during the three-year siege of the city and documents the destruction. Bedirxan stays even when most of her family is killed before her eyes, when she gets shot and when even revolutionaries in the siege are critical of her for not wearing the veil. Like a Peshmerga, she faces the death: her camera her invincible weapon.

She gathers the homeless refugee kids and teaches them, gets them to laugh, and films them. The children become the only sparkle of hope in this otherwise graphic and horrifying film.

The co-directors collaborated via social media and only first met in person when the film premiered in Cannes in May. It is being shown at several high-profile international film festivals, including in Toronto, where Silvered Water was screened last week.

The film, which is named for Bedirxan (Simav is Kurdish for “silvered water”) is an insider’s perspective of Syria’s transformation from a place to live and love, into an unlivable, unimaginable ruin. Variety, the industry publication for Hollywood, called it “necessary and often unbearable” in its review.

Defying Syria’s notorious snipers, Bardixan’s camera is hidden under her clothes as she walks through the ruins of Homs to bear witness to the atrocities.

In Paris, Mohammed obsessively watches and re-watches the amateur footage posted on Youtube and Bedirxan’s images to connect to his homeland. As he encourages and guides the budding documentarian, she calls Mohammed -- her mentor, whom she has yet to meet in person -- “havalo” or Kurdish for friend.

In addition to Bedirxan’s images, corpses, scenes of torture and burnt and mutilated animals are among the 1,001 images taken on cell phones by Syrians who document the brutality in an effort to shame the world into action. Mohammed finds the footage on social media and integrates them into the film.

The images become more gruesome as the movie unfolds and yet certain images are recurrent, including the one of a naked teenager, sodomized and humiliated into kissing a soldier’s boot and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s photo. Ironically, the video was made and distributed by the victimizers to instill fear, unaware that it would backfire and put their atrocities on display for the world to watch.

The film depicts unbearable cruelty; the binary of oppressed and oppressor is a theme in Silvered Water that shows the “tragedy” of seemingly heartless soldiers who kill whether they want to or not, and then are killed.

“Move faster than your fears, Havalo,” Mohammed tells Bedirxan, who hides herself in a child’s closet to prepare herself to face the world the next day.

She continuously films a happy child in the middle of chaos and annihilation who casually makes thought-provoking remarks. An infant whose umbilical cord is cut becomes another recurrent image of the movie.

The movie ends with the word “freedom” being painted in red streaks of blood on bright, white snow.

This article was originally published at

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