13 May 2013

Damascus Roof and Tales of Paradise

Written by Published in Film




A spellbinding journey through old Damascus and the stories, art and architecture that’s put at risk by a tide of modernisation. Soudade Kaadan’s documentary won the second prize in the Murh Arab Documentary category at the Dubai International Film Festival

Syrian filmmaker SoudadeKaadan sublimeSyrian director Soudade Kaadan weaves together a portrait of dreamy Damascus as she knows it, in Damascus Roof and Tales of Paradise. Kaadan’s narrative takes the audience through a labyrinth of intimate stories and physical spaces that inhabit the heart and folklore of its residents. However, the ancient part of Damascus is threatened by government schemes to requisition buildings. In the process of this modernisation the younger generations’ collective memory of folklore is dwindling.

To understand why this is important, one must understand that Syria’s history, like much of the Arab world, is partially hidden. Stories of colonialism in the Arab world often rely on oral accounts, while politicians have been known to determine what goes into the history books.

Is the culture of Damascus, then, disappearing? The documentary nudges Western onlookers: in a country currently at war where lives and livelihoods are burried beneath the rubble of combat, what will happen to Syria’s history and culture?

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‘Anyone entering Damascus a thief, leaves a saint. Heaven is in Damascus.’

‘Once you enter one of its seven gates, you will understand,’ Grins the middle-aged woman surrounded by her daughter and grandchildren. While her hearty laughter reasonates with my Iranian roots, family is a tenet of Middle-Eastern society – I wonder what stories Damascenes without the comfort of a home have to tell. Crumbling heritage, both mental and physical, is the theme of Soudade Kaadan’s documentary and comes across with humorous twists and colourful images of flying fish and secretive serpents. She suggests the government has seized architecture as a tool of power over its people.

Despite the meager slice of society Kaadan has documented, her film provides a glimpse into the backdrop of the Arab Spring, one that is often obscured by mainstream media.

‘If a man has no house he has no country’

A middle-aged man makes a theatrical plea to the camera. His cause is to: ‘remove this requisition, oppression, and forced deportation.’ The white-haired man’s overt unhappiness is almost comical as he sits down on a bed, the view of which is blocked by a massive fortification pole running the height of the room. While the elderly are all too willing to share their stories with Kaadan, she skillfully features family youngsters to prove and etertain her point. Kids playing pretend in waterless fountains, crawling over city walls, and lazing about on stairs, make this documentary personal and touching.

The director’s unusual mix of personal narrative, children and feelings, put things into perspective and make you think about the real problem: the future of Damascus.

Damascus Roof and Tales of Paradise screened at the Birds Eye View Film Festival, in partnership with the ICA and the Al Jazeera Documentary Channel.

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