Syria is now one of the most important countries in the world for the documentary film industry. Since the 1970s, Syrian cinema masters played a defining role in avant-garde filmmaking and political dissent against authoritarianism. After the outbreak of violence in 2011, an estimated 500,000 video clips were uploaded making it one of the first YouTubed revolutions in history.
This book is the first history of documentary filmmaking in Syria. Based on extensive media ethnography and in-depth interviews with Syrian filmmakers in exile, the book offers an archival analysis of the documentary work by masters of Syrian cinema, such as Nabil Maleh, Ossama Mohammed, Mohammed Malas, Hala Al Abdallah, Hanna Ward, Ali Atassi and Omar Amiralay. Joshka Wessels traces how the works of these filmmakers became iconic for a new generation of filmmakers at the beginning of the 21st century and maps the radical change in the documentary landscape after the revolution of 2011. Special attention is paid to the late Syrian filmmaker and pro-democracy activist, Bassel Shehadeh, and the video-resistance from Aleppo and Raqqa against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State. An essential resource for scholars of Syrian Studies, this book will also be highly relevant to the fields of media & conflict research, anthropology and political science.
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Josepha Ivanka (Joshka) Wessels is Senior Lecturer in Communication for Development with the School of Arts and Communication (K3) at Malmoe University in Sweden and Senior Fellow at the Centre for Syrian Studies at the University of St Andrews. She has a PhD in Human Geography from the University of Amsterdam and has carried out postdoctoral research at the University of Copenhagen and Lund University. Until 2012 she was a documentary filmmaker and consultant on the MENA region, with her work being broadcast on the BBC and Al Jazeera English.
Dissident Art and Arab Cinema
PART I: Documentary Filmmaking in Syria
1. Masters of Syrian Documentary
2. Inspired by the masters, a new generation.
3. Documentaries for social change, the case of Bassel Shehadeh
PART II: Eyewitnesses of a Revolution
4. Syrian Emergency Cinema and YouTube
5. The view from below, video activism from the North
6. Politics of the image; relations with international media.
7. To tell the world! Evidencing warcrimes and VR.
A Call from Syrian Filmmakers
Notes and References
Wessels brings a filmmaker's eye and an anthropologist's sensibility to this landmark examination of Syrian documentaries and their creators. Documenting Syria recognizes Syrians as central figures in contemporary Arab media production. Its unflinchingly-reflective narrative draws a line that stretches from eminent professional filmmakers of the late 20th century, to new- generation documentarians of the 2000s, through to the grass-roots social media activists whose work forms a potential forensic archive. Writing from decades of deep engagement, Wessels shatters the myth that the Syrian uprising's explosion of dissident culture emerged from a creative void. -- Christa Salamandra, Professor of Anthropology, Lehman College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, USA "This extraordinary and deeply researched study connects the documentary video productions of the Syrian revolution with antecedents produced under the punishing eye of two Asad regimes. From inside revolutionary Syria, Joshka Wessels provides intimate accounts of the lives of dissident filmmakers whom she knows well and often interviewed at length. A vibrant account of digital video artist-activism throughout the country, Documenting Syria makes an essential contribution to the cultural history of the Syrian revolution and demands international attention to the regime's crimes against humanity and the people's courage, resilience and creativity." -- miriam cooke, Braxton Craven Professor of Arab Cultures, Duke University, USA An excellent exploration of a neglected form of filmmaking from a country whose amazing cultural production has historically been repressed and is currently neglected ... Wessels' book offers a sensitive and knowledgeable insight into contemporary developments in Syria's transnational and networked cultural production. -- Stefanie van de Peer, University of Glasgow, UK
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