Animated Films in the Face of Oppression

02 April 2014


The path from a peaceful uprising to a militarized one is paved with pain and hardship. On this path, Syrians have found themselves struggling with mounting difficulties, every stage becoming more challenging and painful than the previous one. This has led activists to become increasingly creative and innovative in their tactics of civil resistance. 

Still fighting the decades-old Assad regime, Syrians are now also under pressure by groups affiliated to al-Qaeda, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which are trying to impose their own agenda on the local population. Assad has found the perfect ally in these groups, presenting his regime as the only guarantee against religious extremism and sectarianism, while igniting extremism and sectarianism since the beginning of the popular uprising, in March 2011. 

Reaction on the ground has been fierce to both forms of tyranny, with demonstrators throughout the country chanting “Assad and ISIS are one,” and with banners, cartoons, graffiti and other forms of creativity reflecting popular resistance. The Youth Rally Against Extremism has chosen animation as their weapon to confront both the regime and any other emerging form of tyranny.

The idea was born of the work of Wael Toubaji and Delaware Suleiman, both artists with a focus on animation. Together, they produced  They have children, an animated short film featuring Rana, a six-year-old girl trying to record a video message to send to her father’s captors.  

“The film was born as a reaction to the huge number of kidnappings and abductions in Syria, which have dramatically increased under different justifications,” Toubaji said to SyriaUntold.

“At that time, we also started hearing about ISIS and its awful practices. I read about a journalist who had been abducted by ISIS and I was shocked by what he recounted. I realized that we, all Syrians, were suddenly trapped between the jaws of the regime and those of extremists with their own agendas.”

Meeting journalist Husam Mawsali was providential for Toubaji. “Husam sent me an article in which he reflected on how groups like ISIS are complementing the work of the regime in the liberated areas, and this is how the ‘No difference’ film was born.” The motto mentioned at the end of the film leaves no doubt about its message: “Don’t let extremism steal our revolution.”

Based on Mawsali’s text, Toubaji and Suleiman created an animated video in which they highlight the similarities between the nature of the Assad regime and that of extremist groups linked to al-Qaeda. “We believe animation is a very effective way to depict the harsh realities faced by the Syrian people, based on witnesses’ accounts” Toubaji adds. “Animation is more and more used as a documentation tool, there is even an animated documentary festival in Germany, Animadoc.”

The Youth Rally also produced “One hand,” a film that has been present at several international festivals. Their work is becoming increasingly popular, but the team continues to struggle to move forward, as Toubaji explains: “I have to send our work to all my contacts and friends, one by one, to ensure that we get views. Also, we struggle with basic issues like finding music free of copyright to use in the films.”

The Youth Rally’s resilience and will to move forward is at the core of the Syrian civil resistance movement. “The Syrian revolution is a revolution in every sense, as can be seen through its huge creative and artistic production,” the team assures.

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Illustation by Dima Nechawi Graphic Design by Hesham Asaad