* Syria film an indictment of conflict and its costs
* Documentary footage created from uploaded YouTube videos
* Mali Jihadists forbid soccer, music: "all forbidden"
By Alexandria Sage
CANNES, France, May 15 An old man's white hair
suddenly changes to red in "Eau Argentee, Syrie autoportrait"
(Silvered Water, Syria self-portrait) by exiled Syrian filmmaker
Ossama Mohammed, shown at the Cannes film festival on Thursday.
The amateur video may be shaky, grainy and lacking
peripheral view, but the viewer instantly knows the man has just
been shot in the head, another victim of the civil war in Syria
that has already claimed more than 150,000 victims.
This and countless other images of the conflict are woven
together in the documentary by Mohammed, who left his country in
May 2011 for Paris over fears for his safety.
The film is brutal, visceral and hard to watch.
"Since I left Syria, I've become a coward," Mohammed says in
a voiceover. But his film is a courageous and must-be-seen
living document about the destruction of a country, a people
under siege and the power of reporting.
Plagued by guilt for having left his countrymen at a time of
crisis as the peaceful protest movement morphs into a civil war,
Mohammed turned to amateur clips uploaded to YouTube to see what
was happening at home. His film is a patchwork composite of the
powerful fragments he found.
Key among them are images filmed by a young Kurdish woman
living in Homs whom he met in an online chat. "Simav", whose
full name is Wiam Simav Bedirxan, begins to film what she sees
as her city turns into a pile of rubble.
"For the regime, a camera is a weapon," Simav says. Her
images and those by other witnesses risking their lives to
document their Syria are a scathing indictment of Assad.
The film shows the destruction of Syria's once-busy,
third-largest industrial city, along with images of killings,
guerrilla warfare and torture.
A man on his knees is beaten and kicked as he is forced to
kiss a poster of President Bashar al-Assad; another, his eyes
covered and his feet and wrists bound, is suspended in the air
from a rake; a naked teenager huddled in the corner of a cell is
kicked and sodomized with an object by soldiers.
Even the animals bear signs of cruelty and deprivation: cats
with half their face missing, limping and burned animals, a
skinny kitten whose mewing goes unnoticed in abandoned Homs.
WAGING SILENT COMBAT
Accorded a special screening by the prestigious 12-day
festival on the French Riviera, the film is one of several to
bring the chaos and barbarity of current events to the big
screen. A documentary about the uprising in Kiev's Maidan
square, "Maidan" by Sergei Loznitsa, will be screened next week.
"Timbuktu" by Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako is a
fictionalised tale of rebels in Mali imposing their version of
Islamic law on an uncomprehending local population during the
2012 takeover by al Qaeda-linked militants that led to France's
The Arab fighters - separated by the colour of their skin
and their language from the locals - are seen patrolling town
with loudhailers, announcing a host of repressive new laws - a
ban on smoking, an edict that women must wear socks.
"Everything is forbidden," one shouts through his speaker.
A female fish seller is dragged away after complaining about
their order to cover her hands with gloves. For an unknown
infraction of sharia law, we see a man and a woman buried up to
their necks and stoned to death.
Despite the tension, moments of grace flow through Sissako's
film, like the group of young men who play soccer without an
actual ball to circumvent the ban on sport, or the woman who
breaks into song while being whipped for singing.
Far from caricatures, the Jihadists are portrayed as
three-dimensional beings displaying moments of sensitivity,
caring and even humour.
"I think it's important to realise that a Jihadist is a
human being," Sissako said at a news conference. "They're
fragile, yet at the same time a person who treats people badly
may sometimes be racked with doubt."
Sissako choked up while explaining his film, whose main
characters, a peaceful man and his wife and daughter, find their
lives turned upside down after the Islamists' arrival.
"The real courage is to be found with those who live this on
a daily basis, not just one day or two, but for a long time. And
they wage a silent combat, which is a real combat waged by
humankind. That's where the optimism lies in the film."
(Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Michael Roddy)