The making of Syrian documentary “Princes of the Bees” could make a great film in itself. Its director, Bassel Shehadeh, was killed while shooting the film in Homs, in May 2012, and the tape remained unfinished, awaiting someone to complete it.
Born in 1984, Bassel Shehadeh had graduated in Computer Engineering and obtained a Fulbright scholarship to continue his education in film-production in the United States. In mid-2011, he decided to return to his home country to partake in the civil disobedience movement that was gaining momentum. “Princes of the Bees” was his last contribution before he was killed during a government assault on Homs, where he had been filming the aftermath of the violence in Houla.
The film was born from the interest in depicting the involvement of Syrians from different social, identitarian and religious backgrounds in the popular uprising that broke out in March 2011.
Shahade and the rest of the team gave special emphasis to the implication of the Alawite community, which the regime focused on instrumentalizing and presented as its backbone. Young Alawite activists, as the film presents, suffer the double punishment of being harshly repressed by the regime, and of being seen with distrust by the revolution itself.
Syrian filmmaker and blogger Dellair Youssef took up the baton, considering that fighting preconceptions on sectarianism in his country was more important than ever. “Media were increasingly portraying the Syrian uprising as unicolor, being a Sunni revolution alone, and disregarding other activists”, Youssef said to SyriaUntold.
“There were many Alawites, along with activists from other religious groups, who still dream of getting rid of this regime, and I thought it was important to spread this message,” he added.
The documentary highlights how the slogan chanted by demonstrators in the early stage of the uprising - “One, one, one, the Syrian people are one” - was faithful to the reality on the ground. According to the filmmaker, it was this fact precisely that made the regime strengthen its strategy of division and focus on attempting to turn Syrians against each other.
“Princes of the Bees” has faced countless obstacles, starting with the difficulty of taking up someone else’s work.
“I wanted to live up to Bassel’s work, and honor his memory”, Youssef explained. “Activist Waseem Hasan, who owned the film’s rights, asked me to finish it and I decided to do it by respecting both the content and the style.” To this end, he contacted Bassel’s team and the Bassel Shehadeh’s Foundation, created to honor his memory and fund related projects.
The film was released in Istanbul in May 2014, coinciding with the second anniversary of Shehadeh’s death.
“During the Syrian revolution many films have been produced”, Youssef concluded. “There is a need for quality improvements, but considering the circumstances, we have proved to have a young generation of film-makers that poses a promising artistic future for the country.”