This year, the Montreal International Documentary Festival returns with a new territorial Focus as it looks towards Syria through the Bidayyat organization. This program will consist of five screenings, three panels and a Masterclass.
Bidayyat is a Beirut-based Syrian production hub founded in the early days of the Syrian revolution. It was established with the intention of training young people in a tradition of Syrian and regional experimental documentary in order to tell the stories of ordinary people living in Syria during a time of revolution and war. Bidayyat has mentored dozens of young media activists, filmmakers, and writers, helping them produce over 50 shorts, 8 internationally acclaimed feature documentaries, and over 100 online publications.
Focus Bidayyat: New Beginnings highlights some of the inventive and award-winning films that have emerged directly or indirectly from the organization, whose activities have shifted towards the creation of archives. These creative documentaries pioneered new cinematic languages, in response to the rapid proliferation of affordable digital cameras and cell phone video used by Syrian citizens to document the reality and legitimacy of their revolt. They bear witness to the transformation of the lives of millions of Syrians by revolution and war.
Filmgoers can expect to discover Little Palestine, Diary of a Siege by Abdallah Al-Khatib, an elegy to Yarmouk, the former capital of the Palestinian diaspora, which withstood atrocities with dignity before being wiped off the map. In Still Recording by Saeed Albatal and Ghiath Ayoub, two art students from Damascus trade their carefree attitude for the revolution and move to Douma, a working-class suburb under rebel control. Our Terrible Country by Mohammad Ali Atassi and Ziad Homsi follows two dissidents who embark on a perilous journey from Damascus to Raqqa, then are eventually forced into exile in Türkiye as Syria tumbles into the abyss.
Focus Bidayyat also features two works by Rania Stephan: Threshold, a reworking of a 1987 Egyptian science-fiction film in which the audience becomes the main character, Mr. Kamel, a prisoner of time and space; and In Fields of Words: Conversations with Samar Yazbek, in which a writer and a filmmaker question the relationship between language and cinema as tools to represent war and violence.
The program is rounded out by Sara Fattahi’s Coma, about three generations of women who experience the drama of everyday life at an unprecedented time in Syria; and Tim Alsiofi‘s Douma Underground, which finds civilians seeking refuge in their basements as barrel bombs rain down on Ghouta.
Presented in collaboration with World Records, this series is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and McGill University’s Critical Media Lab.