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Reel Syria

Damascus in London - Bill Drummond (Photograph: Mosaic Initiative)

Reel Syria was a festival of Syrian films, music and theatre in London & Edinburgh, March 2012

Reel Syria podcast by Laura Morris

At a time when Syria appears engulfed in violent conflict, Reel Syria aimed to present a nuanced portrait of the country and its people and raise funds for humanitarian aid for Syria.

Highlights of the festival included a panel discussion featuring world famous Syrian Caricaturist Ali Ferzat, Asian Dub Foundation‘s Steve Chandra Savale, Syrian novelists Manhal Alsarraj and Donatella Della Ratta, a Syrian film programme as part of DoxBox Global Day 2012 including a screening of A Flood in Ba’ath Country directed by the late, celebrated Syrian documentary maker Omar Amiralay, a performance of Score 328: SURROUND by ‘The17 an international public performance project conceived by artist/author/musician Bill Drummond (KLF), readings by Syrian novelists including Ghalia Kabbani and a major fundraising concert featuring Samih Choukeir which raised over £36,000 for humanitarian aid for Syria in association with Mosaic Initiative for Syria


DoxBox Syria Global Day 2012: A Flood in Baath CountryFilm Essay on the Euphrates Dam & Tournesol: Al Rastan

Thursday 15th March

Frontline Club

Flood in Baath Country - Omar Amiralay

There was a full house in London’s Frontline Club to support DoxBox Global Day and the opening night of Reel Syria, with a screening of two films by the great Syrian director Omar Amiralay, along with a heartbreaking and beautiful new short film ‘Tournesol: Al Rastan’, which had been filmed and edited in Syria in 2011. Amiralay’s films are a searing critique of the Ba’ath party’s failure to live up to its promises. DoxBox is Syria’s only independent documentary film festival which took place in exile this year in 12 countries around the world. Presented in association with the Frontline Club |

At the same time, screenings took place in Edinburgh, also as part of DoxBox Syria Global Day 2012. Reel Syria was proud to present the UK premiere of Hajar al-Aswad (Black Stone) by acclaimed Syrian director Nidal al Dibs, followed by a discussion panel on creativity and resistance featuring poet Ghazi Hussein (Palestine/Syria); activist Lauren Pyott and University of Edinburgh lecturer Dr Thomas Pierret

Read more about these events on The Guardian website:

‘All over the Arab world, film-makers have been documenting their uprisings and paying for it with their freedom and lives. So this year, the Dox Box organisers decided to make a statement against the Assad regime and not hold the festival in Syria;’ –


Culture under Fire: Creative Resistance in Syria

Friday 16th March

Free Word Centre


(l-r) Ali Ferzat, Steve Chandra Savale, Robin Yassin-Kassab, Donatella Della Ratta and Manhal Alsarraj (Photograph: Mosaic Initiative)

Friday saw another packed house for an event we were particularly proud to host at the Free Word Centre, a bastion of freedom of expression in the UK, and in association with Index on Censorship. We were extremely fortunate to be able to host some of Syria’s best known authors, artists and poets for a discussion on repression and cultural resistance. The event featured (l-r) Ali FerzatSteve Chandra Savale from Asian Dub Foundation, celebrated British Syrian author Robin Yassin-Kassab chairing, Donatella Della Ratta and  Manhal Alsarraj

Listen to the panel discussion here:

Part 1 – Featuring Robin Yassin Kassab, Steve Chandra Savale, Manhal Alsarraj & Donatella Della Ratta

Part 2 – Featuring Ali Ferzat + Q&A

Ali Ferzat is a celebrated Syrian cartoonist who was awarded the 2011 Press Freedom Prize by Reporters Without Borders and Le Monde. In 2000, Ferzat launched the satirical newspaper, Al-Domari, which was forced to close three years later by the Ba’ath authorities, and his cartoons have been banned in several Arab countries. Since the popular uprising began in Syria in March 2011, he has made the government’s violent crackdown on protests the central theme of his work. For denouncing the corruption and abuses of Bashar Al-Assad’s rule, he was attacked in August 2011 by masked gunmen, who broke his hands as a warning. During his time in the UK he won Index on Censorship’s 2012 award for artists, filmmakers and writers whose work asserts artistic freedom and battles against repression and injustice.

Manhal Alsarraj is an award winning Syrian author. She has published a number of books including Overcoming The Bridge (1997), On My Chest (2007) and As the River Must (2000). The latter was banned from publication in Syria as it dealt with the Syrian army’s massacre of thousands of civilians in Hama in 1982. Her most recent novel was Defiant Blood, released in 2011 by Dar al-Adab.

Mamdouh Azzam is a Syrian novelist, whom we had hoped to welcome on the panel. However sadly British Airways declined to let him board his flight. You can read more about this here:

Azzam’s  works are a damning portrait of life under a dictatorship, as well as being beautiful works of literature. His novel Rain Palace (1998) was banned by the Ministry of Culture for religious/political reasons and his latest novel, Women of the Imagination (2011), is a story of a book-obsessed teacher living under the Ba’athist regime.

Steve Chandra Savale, also known by his stage name ‘Chandrasonic’ is best known for his punk rave aesthetic as the guitarist for the ground-breaking British band Asian Dub Foundation. In 2009, he presented a series of documentaries for Al-Jazeera English called Music of Resistance.

Donatella Della Ratta is an academic specializing in the study of Syrian cultural production at the University of Copenhagen and the Danish Institute in Damascus. Author of several articles for leading scholarly journals, she focuses on the culture of resistance in Syria and its implications.

Robin Yassin-Kassab‘s first novel The Road from Damascus (2008) is published by Penguin. He is currently working on his second novel while co-editing The Critical Muslim, a new quarterly magazine, and He writes book reviews and political pieces for the British and international press, and blogs at

This event was presented in association with the Free Word Centre and Index on Censorship

Read more about this event here:


DoxBox Syria Global Day 2012: Film Screening: Zabad & Readings by Ghalia Kabbani

Zabad - Reem Ali

Following the panel discussion we were provided with beautiful examples of Syrian creative resistance in the form of Ghalia Kabbani’s readings and a screening of Reem Ali’s film, Zabad. Zabad is a beautiful and timely allegory, focusing on a family being pulled apart by the difficult realities they face as political dissidents in Syria.

Ghalia Kabbani  a Syrian writer who has worked as a journalist since 1979 and is currently a columnist at Al-Hayat newspaper.  In 1992 she published a volume of short stories and in 1998 her first novel, The Mirror of Summer, in Cairo. Her second collection of short stories was published in 2003, and her third in 2005. She recently published her second novel Secrets and Lies which deals with Syrian lives under the Assad family regime. In 2008 she was chosen to be a member of the first jury for the Arabic novel prize IPAF (the Arabic version of the Booker), and she is a board member of Exiled Writers Ink in London.


Mosaic Initiative for Syria Fundraising  Gala & Bazaar

Saturday 17th March

Kensington Town Hall

Crowds at Mosiac Initiative for Syria Fundraiser (Photograph: Mosaic Initiative)

Saturday saw us join forces with Syrian fundraising collective Mosaic Initiative for Syria, for a spectacular fundraising gala and Syrian Bazaar. This featured renowned Syrian composer, singer and poet, Samih Choukeir as well as a beautiful ‘oud performance by Khyam Allami. Ali Ferzat also took to the stage to speak about his experiences as an artist under the Assad regime, and to entertain the audience with blackly-comic anecdotes. This fantastic event succeeded in raising £36,500, all of which is being used for humanitarian aid in Syria in association with Mosaic Initiative and Syria Relief.

Samih Choukeir and Elie Maalouf (Photograph: Mosaic Initiative)











This event was made possible with sponsorship from the Asfari Foundation.


Bill Drummond:  Damascus in London

Sunday 18th March:


A member of The17 studies the map of Bill Drummond's 'Damascus in London' (Photograph: Itab Azzam)

To close the Reel Syria festival, we had the privilege of being joined by the great Bill Drummond. Bill had hoped to come to Syria with Reel Festivals in 2011, and his piece in London was based on the performance he had planned to lead there.

A map of the Old Town of Damascus was transposed onto London, and 100 volunteers gathered together in a secret location in London to join Bill Drummond’s experimental performance choir, The17.  These 100 then spread across London according to Bill Drummond’s map and, at a given moment, sang to each other, forming a temporary map of Damascus in London. The participants then dispersed around the city.


Ali Ferzat Exhibition

Ali Ferzat at the exhibition of his work in MICA Gallery (Photograph: Mosaic Initiative for Syria)

Following the four-day festival, Reel Syria also supported an exhibition by the political cartoonist Ali Ferzat, the first retrospective of his work in the UK, in association with Mosaic Initiative, Mica Gallery and Amnesty International.

Political cartoonist and ‘icon of freedom in the Arab world’ Ali Ferzat has spent decades satirizing Arab rulers and authorities in more than 15,000 caricatures, offering an acute visual commentary on the brutal practices of the Syrian Ba’ath regime.

In 2000, Ferzat launched the satirical newspaper, Al-Domari (“Lamp-lighter”) which was forced to close by the Ba’ath authorities in 2003, and his cartoons have been banned in several Arab countries. For denouncing the corruption and abuses of Bashar Al-Assad’s rule, he was attacked in August by masked gunmen, who broke his hands as a warning.

In 2011, he was awarded the Press Freedom Prize by Reporters Without Borders and Le Monde and in 2012, during his visit to London he was awarded Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression 2012 award.

This was an extremely rare chance to see work produced by Ali Ferzat over the course of the last year, and we were encouraged to see an outpouring of support for Mr Ferzat and his work.

Read more about this event here:

This event was sponsored by British Council, Amnesty InternationalMica Gallery and Firefly International

Ali Ferzat Cartoon

Reel Syria is extremely thankful to all of our sponsors, including DoxBox, British Council, FreeWord Centre, The Asfari FoundationIndex on Censorship,  Amnesty InternationalFrontline Club, Culture and Conflict, Mosaic Initiative for Syria and Firefly International



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About Us

Reel Festivals is a Firefly International project. Firefly International aims to encourage dialogue and communication through the arts, and is based in Edinburgh, Scotland. For more information please visit

  • Address: Reel Festivals, c/o Firefly International, PO Box 67864, London SE24 4AU, UK
  • Charity Number: SC 028744


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