Sunday, August 26, 2012

Filmmaker Orwa Nayrabia missing in Syria

First published on BIKYAMASR

Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, part of the larger Arab Spring, also filmmakers have been on the death row of the Syrian regime, together with other artists, journalists and activists.
Before the first public demonstrations against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad in March 15, 2011, Syrians bid farewell Omar Amiralay, one of the most prominent filmmakers and civil society activists, who died on February 5, 2011.
Amiralay became an ardent critic of the Syrian regime long before the Arab Spring and he played a prominent role in the Damascus Spring of 2000, being a signatory of the “Declaration of the 99”, signed by 99 Syrian intellectuals calling for an end to the state of emergency in force since 1963, release of political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and to allow the empowerment of civil society.
One of his most critical films, 2003’s “A Flood in a Baath Country”, a sharp and critical look at the education system inside Assad’s Syria – originally titled “Fifteen reasons why I hate the Baath Party” – was removed from Carthage Film Festival because of its strong political content and indictment of the regime; in solidarity with Amiralay, Lebanese filmmakers Danielle Arbid, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, among other filmmakers from the region, withdrew their submissions.
In 2005, after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Lebanon, Amiralay signed another declaration by Syrian intellectuals demanding Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and calling for the Lebanese to cease violence against Syrian workers in Lebanon. He is also remembered for producing the film “On a day of ordinary violence: My friend Michel Seurat”, a tribute to and remembrance of the French sociologist and Syria expert who died in captivity in 1986 after he was kidnapped during the Lebanese Civil War.
In May 28, 2012, the young Syrian filmmaker Bassel Shahade was killed by government forces during an assault on the besieged city of Homs, where he was filming and documenting after the violence in Houla. The 28-years-old was a Fullbright Scholar at the University of Syracuse (NY) and left his studies to return to Syria and tell the story of what was happening in his country. In Shahade’s own words: “When I held my camera and went to Homs… It was like holding a weapon with me. It’s very dangerous to hold a camera and travel around the country.”
He is also remembered for a short film, “Saturday Morning Gift”, dealing with the horrors of the 2006 July War between Hezbollah and the Israeli Defense Forces. Syrian-American writer Amal Hanano reported on his death: “In his final hours, Bassel Shahade, crossed Homs, under fire, to give condolences to his friend who had lost other friends. Then he died. Bassel Shahade held his friend’s hand and said, ‘We won’t forget them. We’ll do something in their honor.’ Bassel died an hour later.” It was also reported then that regime forces prevented his funeral by shelling the Christian neighborhood of Hamidyeh in Homs, after announcing the funeral.
On Friday, August 24, concern among fellow filmmakers and activists grew with the sudden disappearance of another Syrian filmmaker, Orwa Nayrabia, who went missing after attempting to travel to Cairo. Syrian activists reported that according to Egypt Air, he never boarded the plane and his family lost contact with him. Although no detention has been confirmed so far; the standard procedure of the Syrian authorities – not reporting or releasing information on detainees. Dutch documentary festival IDFA reported that Nayrabia was heading to Cairo around 5:00 PM on August 23, and went missing shortly afterwards.
The 35-years-old filmmaker is the director of DOX BOX, an international documentary film festival taking place in Syria that he had founded with his wife in 2008, and that had been supported prior to the Arab Spring by the Dutch IDFA. Nayrabia wrote for Lebanese daily As-Safir and starred in Yoursy Nasralla’s “Gates of the Sun” (2004), a film adaptation of Elias Khoury’s novel of the same title, dealing with the Palestinian struggles in Lebanon. He also acted as a producer in the documentaries “Dolls: A Woman from Damascus” (2007) and “The Light in Her Eyes” (2011).
Nayrabia is also known to be an activist himself with active online presence, besides the work of his film festival that served as a platform to highlight the events and situation in Syria, with more nuanced perspectives; it is believed that might have upset the regime. Now Lebanon also reported that he is the son of opposition figure Mouaffaq Nayrabia, who was imprisoned for almost 15 years during the regime of Hafez Al-Assad.
His friends and activists have set up a Facebook page, “Freedom for Syrian Cinema, Freedom for Orwa Nayrabia” and Dubai-based Lebanese documentary filmmaker Mahmoud Kaabour posted a video on YouTube calling for his release, highlighting his role as a pioneer in Arab cinema through his film festival.
The crackdown of the Syrian regime continues unmolested throughout the country and echoes in neighboring Lebanon; accordingly the concern over the safety of the Syrian filmmaker is very real as the case of Shahade and many other activists and civilians has shown. Thousands of people are reported missing in Syria and presumably arrested, tortured and disappeared by the regime, including not only Syrians but also thousands of Lebanese citizens that were arrested without trial during the long-time military hegemony of Syria in Lebanon. Since the time of his arrest, no information has been made available on his whereabouts.

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