Ossama Mohammed & Wiam Simav Bedirxan / 2014, Cannes, London, Turin, Yamagata / 92'
Silvered Water: Syria Self Portrait is a documentary directed by exiled Syrian filmmaker Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan. The film offers a rare glimpse inside the hermetic world of Syria during the early stages of its Civil War, chronicling the siege of Homs through a combination of eye-witness accounts posted to the internet and on-the-ground footage shot by Bedirxan, an elementary school teacher.
Insofar as cinema has the power to serve as historical archive, to provide a more visceral experience of what life looks like than, say, the written word, there is no place more critical to document in the present moment than Syria. Censorship has precluded true and meaningful discourse on the conflict— many scholars and academics cannot and do not speak out, out of fear for their lives. More than mere documentary, Silvered Water functions as a mise-en-abîme of the Syrian experience itself. The film's structure reflects the fragmented nature of existence inside the regime— equally, of life in exile. These obstacles dictate the form of Silvered Water which, in addition to Bedirxan's footage, is comprised of thousands of clips sourced from average people on cell-phones.
Nearly three years have passed since Silvered Water's premiere, and the situation on the ground has only escalated. After a host of special theatrical screenings, the film remains without distribution in the US. Filmatique is the first digital platform to host it.
Silvered Water: Syria Self-Portrait premiered in the Official Selection of Cannes, and won prizes including Best Documentary at London, Turin, and the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival.
A Conversation with Ossama Mohammed
"For me, art is the moment of discovering new millimeters in our life"
- FLMTQ Interview
In an exclusive interview with Filmatique, exiled Syrian filmmaker Ossama Mohammed discusses cinema as historical archive, the link between justice and beauty, and how to make an auteur film with one thousand authors.
In a personal essay, Ossama Mohammed reflects on the genesis and urgency of Silvered Water: Syria Self Portrait.
*Note: At the time of publishing, co-director Wiam Simav Bedirxan was inside Syria, at a refugee camp near the Turkish border, and not available for an interview. We wish her safe passage.
"It's said that Syria is the land of assassinated filmmakers, since anyone with a camera or cell phone becomes an instant target for sniper bullets. Director Ossama Mohammed (Sacrifices), in exile in Paris since 2011, sifted through thousands of online videos documenting the daily atrocities in his country to make Silvered Water: Syria Self-Portrait, a necessary, often unbearable documentary that bears witness to the horrors of the civil war"
- Jay Weissberg, Cannes Review, Variety
"Syrian cinema has always been notable for its abstraction and its poetic vision even amid pain. Ossama Mohammed, an outspoken critic of Assad's regime, shows great artistry in editing together these lacerating images, intercut with the rainy Parisian grays around him. He is tormented by feeling like a coward for being safe from the war, while he pushes young Bedirxan to film everything she sees in Homs... Cinema as life is a thread that runs through the film. The narrator tells the story of how his camera was snatched on the street but before he could catch the thief, the boy was shot to death. Now he appears in Mohammed's dreams. Self-reflexive filmmaking is supposed to be a distancing device for the audience, and never was it more needed than here, to mediate the terrible images of the dead and wounded being hooked to wires and dragged across streets to get them out of the range of snipers, or children alive in one shot and dead in the next"
- Deborah Young, Cannes Review, The Hollywood Reporter
"Is it obscene to speak of aesthetic canons when describing massacres? On the contrary. Silvered Water's greatest achievement is to reel in the world's chaos and make it a work of cinematic art. There have been other films about the situation in Syria and sadly there will be more. Some have been brave and powerful—like Talak Derki's The Return to Homs, shown at New Directors / New Films last March— but none have transcended the document the way Silvered Water does. Why should this matter? Why is it so desperately important that the film's last words are, "What is cinema? What is beauty?" Mohammed's way of understanding the world— the knowledge he passes on to Bedirxan— is cinema. By staying the course of their art, Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan prove that they are not just surviving. They are living"
- Nicholas Elliott, Cannes Review, BOMB Magazine
"Silvered Water extends the possibilities of visual expression to the fullest. In the face of appalling unbearable violence, what can cinema and the filmmaker do? This film, made at the risk of the filmmakers' lives, provides us with an answer. Their film becomes a validation of their lives— something documentary should essentially be. We express our respect for the filmmakers' courage and ability to take action"
- Jury Statement for the Award of Excellence, Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival
"For the Directors' ability to use the 'One Thousand and One Eyes' in cinematographic terms and to document, in both a private and collective manner, the atrocities of war encumbering nowadays on the insecure day-to-day lives of the people of Syria"
- Jury Statement, Turin Film Festival