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‘Producers are looking for the cinema of words, not cinematic language’

Director Soudane Kaadan lives in Beirut. Some of her previous works include Aziza (2019) as well as her latest, the 2018 film “The Day I Lost My Shadow” (Youm Ada’t Thilli), which was awarded the “Lion of the Future” award for best debut film at the Venice Film Festival.

“When the revolution started, the censor disappeared,” she says. “This created a sense of loss, with people asking themselves: ‘So now we can speak directly, just like that? We’re not used to it!’”

“So the first films to come out were very direct, a kind of necessary screaming. The films that came out in that first phase after the revolution were documentaries, telling their narrative directly. There was a pleasure in wording things directly.”

“But then we discovered that cinema is not like that. It is not a speech you present to an audience. That is the role of the activist, but not of the cinema. It cannot be in one language, either.”

Kaadan views this as a problem linked to the funding institutions that wanted things put directly, giving little space to those with different narrative styles.

“Some of us, myself included, wanted to make fiction films, and were met with questions like: ‘Why not make documentaries?'”

One of the challenges that Kaadan faced was finding funding for her feature-length film, “The Day I Lost My Shadow.” The process took a long time, she says.

“There’s this preference for documentaries over fiction films, because the documentary satisfies the curiosity of the voyeur, as they say, the viewer needs to know the truth of what is happening in the war and documentaries cater to this need. So there’s a global interest in documentaries. This curiosity doesn’t mean that there have been any solutions presented for the Syrian issue, though.”

“There is no international interest in creating a Syrian cinema, or funding it, if you want to make or say something different without practising self-censorship. It’s a long process. Of course, there were documentaries that leaned towards indirect speech—either creative or analytical ones—that did not want to spell out their narrative. But those films encounter funding difficulties. True, they manage in the end, but they did not get the attention they deserve, or the attention received by films of words rather than language.”

“Perhaps this isn’t all censorship, rather that funding encourages one thing at the expense of another. So international funding can decide what it wants to see, or what it wants to hear, about us.”

When I contacted the directors, I sounded out the idea of the piece, asking a general question on the relationship between censorship and the cinematic product. I meant for the question to be open, to give the directors the space to take it in whichever direction they wanted to go, leading me towards a different set of questions each time. And so I got unique answers from each one of them on what censorship is as a concept.

Perhaps when we are “liberated” from its (relatively) political context, this opens up fresh questions and interpretations—or is that what happened when the walls of fear were crumbled by the uprisings?