Bidayyat’s nice little shoestrings
Text by David Hury
“I founded Bidayyat in 2013, as a reaction to the exile experienced by many Syrians,” says Mohammad Ali Atassi, a 50-year-old journalist-turned-filmmaker, and a native of Damascus now based in Beirut, Lebanon. “At a time when the mass media offered only stereotyped depictions of Syrians, there was a need to do something to help young Syrians with their projects. It was very important for me to tell our stories, stories about ordinary people, and give counter narratives.” Acts of daily life that take on today a purely political colour. From the start, Bidayyat (“beginnings” in Arabic) did not disguise its orientation: its films would be political, opposing Bashar al-Assad and opposing ISIS. Atassi produces narrative shorts and animated films in addition to documentaries. Atassi has consciously decided to produce only Syrian or Syrian-born Palestinian directors. Two such directors are Samer Ajouri and Amer al-Barzawi, who were both able to make their animated films, The Boy and The Sea and Yaman respectively. The two projects may differ in form, but their content tackles a key issue for all people experiencing civil wars: how do you maintain your humanity in such dark times?
A Critique of the Media Landscape
Inside a building in the heart of the traditional district of Gemayzeh, Beirut, the members of Bidayyat have gathered. There are five or six of them – Syrians, Lebanese and one German girl. “We hope one day to work from inside Syria,” says Atassi, “When Syria is free.” He punctuates every sentence with a barb against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Thus, the language of film takes a very clear stand: all the films produced evoke humans in wartime. Through the words of children filmed at school, or a short animated film made in stop motion. Like Amer al-Barzawi’s Yaman released last year. Yaman is the story of a little boy dreaming of becoming a great inventor. “Stop motion is a great way to make the audience see things unrealistic in movement but realistic in materiality,” explains the director. There, he is quoting Michel Gondry whose work method of combining techniques intrigues him.
In 2016, he spent two months making the film: a month for designing and constructing the sets, three weeks for the photographs, and the remaining time for the score and editing. His film ends with a real and telling scene, that of street children pushed by the war to sell tissues.