Hala Alabdalla

18 April 2013

Syrian film director Hala Alabdalla was born in Hama in 1956. Her dream was to become an agricultural engineer, despite the love for cinema that she held since her teenage years, when she used to watch Soviet films and follow the latest works of Italian realists at the Cinema Club in Damascus.

At a young age, Alabdalla stood in the face of dictatorship, and eventually paid a heavy price for her beliefs. Before completing her first year at the School of Agricultural Engineering, she was forcibly disappeared into the late President Hafez al-Assad’s prison for 14 months. She ended up leaving Syria in the late 1970s with her husband, artist Yousif Abdalki, and settled in Paris where she began her studies of genetics and anthropology. Eventually, she followed her dream of working in cinema, and managed to share the pain felt by Syrian expatriates.

The start of her relationship with Syrian movie director Usama Muhammad was a turning point in her life. They met in 1986, when he was set to shoot his first feature film “Stars in The Light of Day.” She was his assistant director, and was involved in almost all the details of the production of his second film “Peep Show.” After that, she dedicated her life to filmmaking, working as producer, script writer or co-director of over 15 French, Lebanese and Syrian feature films and documentaries in a 25-year period. Eventually, she wrote, produced and directed her first feature film, “I Bring Flowers to my Own Grave.” The film was shot in black and white, with the help of the photographer and director Ammar Al-Beik. The film title was inspired by a poem written by the late Syrian poetess Daad Haddad entitled “I Bring Flowers to My Own Grave, Weeping at The Poetry.” The film was produced in 2006 and has been shown in more than 55 countries. It won several awards, including third place at the Dubai Film Festival, first place at the Tetouan Film Festival, third place at the Rotterdam Documentary Film Festival, and a special award from the Italian Documentary Association at the Venice Film Festival. Even though it was the first Syrian film to be featured at the Venice Film Festival in the 75 years since its inception, the film was banned in Syria.

Alabdalla’s second film “Don't Forget The Cumin,” which was released in 2008, is a cross between a documentary and a feature film. The film tells the stories of three creative characters: Sarah Keen, Darina Al-Joundi, and the Syrian storyteller Jamil Hatmal, paying special attention to Hatmal’s final days. He died young and alone in his Parisian exile in 1992.

At the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, Alabdalla was quick to make her stance known. She even withdrew her film “As If We Were Holding a Cobra” from the Cairo International Film Festival and the Dubai International Film Festival upon discovering that both festivals featured films by Syrian filmmakers loyal to the regime. Though the film started with a focus on the censorship of caricature, Alabdallah switched gears at the advent of the revolution, focusing instead on Syrian artists using caricatures and illustrations in their struggle for freedom.

In an interview with Euromed Audiovisual, Alabdalla said, “Revolution is basically a radical change, and it has touched the people and industry of cinema,” commenting on the connection between art and the revolution. "Neither filmmakers nor people are afraid any more. They are aware of their right to hold a position and keep to it. Some of our young filmmakers go to where the killing is just to be able to send us pictures; others raise their voices and face imprisonment. Several movies are still in pre-production, others have been finished and published on the internet. These films tackle things we could never talk about before, like the film "Hama 82," which tells the story of massacres committed by the Syrian army in Hama in 1982 through archived materials and testimonies of families who witnessed the events. These filmmakers are strong and they have found ways to hide their tracks on the internet."

Watch "As If We Were Catching a Cobra," by Hala Alabdalla

This work is under a Creative Commons license. Attribution: Non commercial - ShareAlike 4.0. International license

Illustation by Dima Nechawi Graphic Design by Hesham Asaad