For over two years, Syria: Intimate Diaries of the Revolution has been chronicling the trials and tribulations of four young Syrians caught in the country's three-year civil war. Two French directors offered cameras to the four protagonists to film the upheavals in their everyday lives. They then edited over 100 short films that make up this gripping webdocumentary. On December 20 at 6:30pm, the French-German #Television station Arte broadcasts a behind-the-scene documentary of this unique media experience.
“Terrorism in Syria resembles a snake,” explains Oussama with feeling. “The tail is Al Qaïda al Nousra, the head is (Bashar) al-Assad.” The statement by the former pharmacist is directed with venom at the tiny lens of an iphone 5 he is holding at arms length. Like so many daily films he has made before, this monologue in the intimacy of Oussama's room then finds its way to the editing suite of co-directors Caroline Donati and Carine Lefebvre-Quennell in Paris. Within days, the two veterans of Middle East politics process it for two major websites, Arte and the French online media company Médiapart. In this way, Donati and Lefebvre-Quennell have devoted over two years to bringing out grassroot testimony of daily life in Syria, as seen through the eyes of Oussama, Majid, Joudi and Amer.
“When we first started in November 2012, we never imagined this would become such an odyssey,” explains Donati, somewhat ruefully as she smokes nervously outside a Paris cinema showing extracts of her work. But she has no regrets about the engagement she has made to telling the story from beneath the Syrian rubble.
“This is not the war we see in the news,” she insists, “this is reality in the sidelines, the lulls, the wild enthusiasm, the worry, the solitude, and also the philosophy these young people carry.”
In the course of these dozens of short films it is often the solitude that comes through strongest. The cameras have become intimist mirrors, verbal diaries that the protagonists seem to hang on to in their darkest moments. Amer and Majid testify as they dodge bombs and bullets. They are desperately attempting to survive and hang onto dreams that fuelled their involvement in the non-violent revolution they helped to instigate in Damascus and Aleppo, respectively. Oussama films himself in a forced exile devoted to unremitting campaigns to support those he left behind. Whilst his sister Joudi testifies to the horrors of Assad's prisons: after seven months of interrogations and torture, she describes with emotion her struggle to survive, sitting in the unsure security of a Lebanese refugee camp.
These visual diaries evolve chronologically in front of our eyes. The monologues with the camera make for riveting, if at times unbearable, watching. “Strangely, in our isolation, we've become a distant family,” explains Oussama in a telephone interview from Turkey with Blasting News. “I didn't really know Amer and Majid before. But when the latter was injured recently whilst following a brigade from the Free Syrian Army, I felt torn apart, it was like my own brother had been wounded.”
Oussama was initially a reluctant participant in the media adventure. “It was really tough at first, it just didn't feel natural. I mean, why would anyone be interested in my experience?”, he wonders out loud. Then, the conviction steps in: “This revolution has gone through several stages, peaceful, armed, locally-organised, terrorism, it's SO complicated. But we simplify the equation. We see how our testimonies are a reaffirmation of our initial dreams and aspirations. While the media paints black-and-white pictures of Syria our little films are different shades of grey.”
The films have become all the more vital as Syria has become more inaccessible to journalists. In their press freedom index for 2013 and 2014, Reporters Without Borders claims Syria is the world's deadliest nation for journalists. “The role of these citizen journalists is vital,” explains Salam Kawakibini, a political scientist close to the Syrian opposition. “Since reporters cannot venture into Syria anymore, these four civilians provide us vital insight into the daily suffering of the population caught in this inferno. And it reflects the vitality of this generation that continues to innovate and resist creatively in the face of a barbarity that is unimaginable.”
The webdocumentary is updated every fortnight and has just been guaranteed funding for a further year by Arte TV. It has reaped several prestigious international awards and is visited by hundreds of thousands of #Internet users worldwide.