MP6: Contemporary Art Festival from the Arab World / ONASSIS CULTURAL CENTRE

MP6: Contemporary Art Festival from the Arab World

Οmar Amiralay: Civic Imagination

2012, March 9
Upper Stage
2h 30min
A retrospective of the oeuvre of the late great Syrian cinematographer.
Free entrance
The session is part of the Conversations: Revolutions of the Present of Meeting Points 6.

The eruption of the 1968 student rebellion in Paris proved a turning point in the career of late Syrian filmmaker Omar Amiralay, who at that time was enrolled at the Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques (today known as FEMIS). His involvement in the revolt and the act of documentation that he undertook as the incidents broke through made him drop his studies and begin making films that would become part of the canon for generations of documentary filmmakers in the Arab world.

Amiralay’s filmography includes about twenty of the most important documentaries covering crucial cultural, political and social issues, and is considered as a key chapter in the modern history of Syria, the region and beyond. His films include such masterpieces as: Film-Essay on the Euphrates Dam (1970), Everyday Life in a Syrian Village (1974), On a Revolution (1978), Love Aborted (1983), For the Attention of Madame the Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (1990), Light and Shadows (1994), On a Day of Ordinary Violence, My Friend Michel Seurat (1996), The Man with the Golden Soles (1999).
Driving force in the creation of the Arab Film Institute (2005-2008), Amiralay received several international awards from the early stages of this career, amongst which a 2006 retrospective of his work at Centre Georges Pompidou’s Cinema du Reel festival in Paris.

At the time of his death in February 2011, Amiralay was working on his latest work, Seduction.



Film-Essay on the Euphrates Dam (Syria, 1970), 12 min., B&W

This first film by the veteran documentary filmmaker Omar Amiralay follows the construction of a dam on the Euphrates river that is supposed to bring tremendous improvement in the lives of villages around it. The original print has been restored and digitized very recently, and subtitled in English especially for this program.

Everyday Life in a Syrian Village (Syria, 1974), 80 min., B&W

The first documentary to present an unabashed critique of the impact of the Syrian government’s agricultural and land reforms, Everyday Life in a Syrian Village delivers a powerful jab at the state’s conceit of redressing social and economic inequities. Interviews with farmers, health workers and a police officer contrast the peasants’ regard for the state with the mindset of state representatives toward those peasants. Sa’adallahWannus, a prominent Syrian playwright and essayist collaborated with documentary pioneer Amiralay on the project. The film remains banned in Syria. The original print has been restored and digitized very recently, and subtitled in English especially for this program.

A Flood in Baath Country (Syria/France, 2003), 46 min.

Thirty years after Film-Essay..., in praise of the ruling Baath party’s project to construct an impressive system of dams, Amiralay revisited the Euphrates Dam. After fatal construction flaws had been discovered, his controversial new film explored the metaphorical implications of such weakness. Without commentary or criticism, Amiralay’s film exposes Baath party propaganda and its debilitating effects on the people of al-Mashi village, 400 kilometres northeast of Damascus. The camera moves slowly from students to teachers to government officials, with everyone reciting the exact same praises for the president and slogans glorifying the Baath party. The film is the harshest indictment yet of the regime, portraying the devastating effects of 35 years of rigid Baath party rule on Syrian society.

All films: Arabic with subtitles in English

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