According to the UNHCR (United Nation High Commissioner for Refugee) at the end of 2019, Germany had become the biggest host country for refugees in Europe, with resulting in 1.15 million refugees and 309,000 asylum seekers, half of them from Syria. Now ten years since the civil war began and with devastating effects whereby the youth have had to recreate their identities while at the same time not let go of their roots, their stories, and their communities. Under pressure to integrate within their new homelands - just how easy is that?
DER FREMDE (THE STRANGER)
This is the first installment in a trilogy directed and written by Syrian Ameer Fakher Eldin. The location is very important, since Eldin grew up there - and although one of the most beautiful places to him, the location is the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. This territory was taken in 1967 and annexed without international consent, thus separating thousands of Syrians from their homeland. This is the story that lies beneath the skin of Eldin who to create a protagonist mirrored in himself. He chose a character who feels like a stranger not accepted by the community. Adnan, a doctor who didn’t complete his medical exams in Russia, is often chastised by the community until one day he finds a wounded man from the Syrian side who needs his help. At first glance the small village looks idyllic with apple orchards, yet on closer look we see the trees are sick. People living here suffer from the daily bombings and violence that borders the fighting in Syria - which can be heard in the background. The film is extremely bleak, long and excruciating to endure. We have a clear picture of the suffering the director himself endured and who is still marked by these experiences. What is amazing about this film is that it was actually shot in the Golan Heights - a rare film but also a documentary of living next to a country at war. This film premiered at the 78th Venice International Film Festival and won the Edipo Re Award and is selected as the Palestinians’ official Oscar entry. My only disappointment was the film moderator, who asked all the wrong questions and was more interested in the German cameraman than in the young filmmaker who barred us his soul.
LITTLE PALESTINE, DIARY OF A SIEGE
Next was an even harder look at reality: a documentary filmed over several years.
In 1957 the biggest unofficial Palestinian refugee camp in the world was created in the district of Yarmouk (Damascus, Syria), a peaceful place where people could work, trade, and lives in peace. With the Syrian revolution outbreak, the regime of Bashar Al-Assad besieged Yarmouk from 2013 - 2018, and eventually cutting off Yarmouk. Because of their unofficial UN status, they received no outside help. Born in Yarmouk, the young Abdallah Al-Khatib’s delt with this crisis with his camera creating a daily diary of the thousands of Palestinian civilians left to their own devices in the wake of this siege. In LITTLE PALESTINE, DIARY OF A SIEGE, scenes of brutal fighting and closed roads, leading us to follow the destiny of many civilians who struggle with starvation, lack of medicine, bombed-out houses, and no electricity. Abdallah Al-Khatib makes an artistic choice and creates a love song in honor of proud peoples who attempt to withstand the storm of war. After his expulsion by Daesh in 2015, he now lives in Hamburg. His stark memories on film create a haunting view of reality as we watch a young girl collect weeds from unforgiving dry soil, hoping to find enough to feed her family. Truly was one of the most heart-wrenching films I have watched in a long time. Seeing this young filmmaker tell his story, one longs to stop this violence. In my opinion, this was the most honest and by far the best film of the festival this year.