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Another day in limbo

Adad looks despairing when I ask him about the future. Stuck in Lebanon for 6 months half-way between his home in Syria and his dream of living ‘a free life’ in Europe he now lives by night and sleeps by day.

Each night he is locked next to his wife Lilith facing into their laptops entranced by ‘the Facebook revolution’ which holds them to the fringes of what seems like a faltering Syrian Spring, but despite their despair it offers the only meaning to their lives these days..

Asu aged 5, is used to playing alone, Adad and Lilith both know they should spend more time with him. If Asu is lucky he gets to play with his friends down the road but today like most days he play alone inside the cramped flat they now call home. Adad worries about being 2 months behind with the rent, he also needs a further $100 to get his increasingly serious heart condition checked-out but that, like the rent, must wait. Meanwhile, like many in this neck of the woods, he puffs away on his 40 a day habit, Lilith too is a heavy smoker. A year ago all seemed rosy with the revolution but now Adad has become gloomy about it all, believing that there is a real danger of the Islamist’s stealing the revolution from them the longer it takes.

Sargon was just a boy when I first filmed him some 3 or 4 years ago, he is now 16 and looking all the part an adult. Unable to find a school to continue his studies he’s taken a part-time job in a shop, at first they offered him 6 hours a day but now he’s working 12 hours a day 7 days a week for $300 (plus tips from his deliveries.)

“I feel positive and hopeful for the first time in my life” he tells me. I’ve seen this boy in some sticky situations in Syria, last year he was arrested with his father during street protests trying to get his mother out of prison – he succeeded, only to lose both his parents to the revolution and in the process lose the family life he cherished so much growing-up in Tatous. The new hope he has found in Lebanon comes not just from finding work but also from finding friends in the Jehovah Witnesses – a Christian group banned but still tolerated in The Lebanon. Sargon once dreamed of being political just like his mother but now he hates politics and says he has found new a meaning to his life, but his atheist parents don’t like it and have stopped him attending the Jehovah’s meetings.

I took Sargon for a pizza by the sea the other night, we both had a swim, it was a rare treat for us both “You know Sean I’ve moved house 10 times since I met you, I just want some stability” he confided in me “I haven’t had the chance to be a teenager… I went straight from child to adult”. Sargon looks and acts the adult these days but now and again, fleetingly, I am reminded that he isn’t when he cracks his wonderful childlike jokes, jokes that his father has no time for… he expects him to be an adult now.

After the swim I allow him a bottle of Smirnoff ice – well if he must carry some of the burdens of adult life he certainly deserves the odd drink like an adult. Sargon really is a good boy, smart, honest, and witty despite his difficult life. Even his dream pair of Nike trainer shoes must wait another month as the money he set aside for them has gone to buy food for the family again, just like the rest of his salary. But he doesn’t complain, “We are a family and I must help contribute to it” it is a wonderfully generous statement and quite typical of the boy – Sargon has spent his life putting his family first.

His parents have struggled as the Syrian regime has taken one and then the other to prison. But now, hopefully, they are one step closer to some sort of stability. They are in limbo in Lebanon but relatively safe so long as Adad keeps his head down, as a ‘stateless’ Palestinian he has no papers or passport, Syria has been his temporary home until the issue of Palestine is resolved!

But with this stability comes the pain of being outside of the revolution – it was too much for Lilith, recently she took-off back to Damascus, smuggled herself back into Syria and stayed in-hiding for a month setting up her new revolutionary Youth Organization, but it is all a terrible strain on the family and kids, Adad would like to turn his back on it all and leave for Europe but Lilith cannot leave the fight. And now their existence in Lebanon is made much more dangerous as fighting breaks out in the northern town of Tripoli between Alawite loyalists of the Assad regime and opposition rebels, some news report are suggesting that this “Threatens the stability in the whole country, and could come to Beirut” rekindling old factional enmities and reigniting the civil war.

In the meantime Adad and the family struggles to get-by on Sargon’s wages plus money sent by his relatives in Syria, and some help from charities in the west. His heart-scare is on his mind, as is the unpaid rent, putting the food on the table each week, whether or not the Islamist s are winning the revolution in Syria, and if the street fighting in Tripoli will bring war to Beirut. Outside, the walls of his house are spattered with bullet holes, a reminder of the bitter civil war he was caught up in in his youth and which is now once again so desperately trying to escape from.

Tonight Lilith hears of yet more rapes in Hom’s, and more new videos emerge of tortured corpses, Asu plays on alone in the background, and Sargon returns home from work.

Another ordinary day in the life of a family in limbo, wondering where their place is in the world, wondering how and when it will all end.

It’s only Television

15 June 2010

Before I returned to England a couple of weeks ago I made a trip to meet with someone whom I hoped would be an interesting character for a film I wanted to make. I didn’t mention anything about him in my blog because I wasn’t sure. When can we ever be sure for sure?

A few hours before I was due to leave I took a rental car into the Syrian countryside and went to meet him, and managed to film a little taster-piece for the BBC. I hadn’t got around to telling them that my previous film with Nizam had fallen through, I was worried that they may see me as being rather unreliable over these last few unproductive years.

How the years pass. It seems such a long ago since I finished the Japan film; and everything since then… it all feels like a series of failures.

Failed projects in South Africa that the BBC didn’t want, films the BBC did want in Dubai that I didn’t want to do but still gave (virtually unfunded) the best part of a year to trying to make work followed by a year and a half finding, and eventually failing to make, a film in Norway and Syria with Nizam.

I remember NHK my Japanese co-broadcaster offering me 100k for an idea I’d written about Damascus. But the BBC said they wanted Dubai. In my niceness I tried to persuade NHK to put their money to a more worthy cause – a far more popular film set in Dubai for (and backed by) the BBC.

And so I went to Dubai and over two trips lasting a few months found myself dying inside. Lost and without direction, the evenings became nothing more than a series of blurred bar scenes, I wanted to lose all my sensibilities and completely withdraw from that plastic nightmare hell hole.

So I found myself migrating from Dubai to Damascus to meet with Nizam; which began yet another mistaken adventure. But by this time the BBC had begun to show some interest in Libya, and, as Nizam was half-Libyan, his story would fit the bill. In the end they commissioned a story half set in Syria and Libya. But a year and a half had passed since I’d tried to persuade the Japanese away from Damascus towards Dubai and now here I was again trying to persuade them (NHK) away from Dubai and back to Syria with a little bit of Libya thrown in too.

Two years after their original 100k offer we meet at the prestigious Yamagata Film festival where my Japan film picks up two awards. I sense awkwardness in the NHK Commissioning Editor, something had changed and I wasn’t sure what, and in true (non-confrontational) Japanese spirit nothing is said. He takes my Nizam trailer and promises to submit it, 6 months later he finally submits it but by now rumours emerge that he is being moved to a new department and my project with Nizam is falling through. Could it be that I spent too much time fund-raising and not enough time filming?

And so it was, in the final hours of my time in Syria that I found myself making an impromptu trip into the Syrian countryside to find a new character. The BBC like him but they can only offer a small budget to make it and suggest NHK to co-fund it.

But it is now 2 and a half years on since their offer of 100k for a film in Damascus – money I couldn’t accept because the BBC wanted a film in Dubai – and things have changed, my man at NHK has moved departments and it seems the money is no longer there.

The motto of the story is never refuse money from TV!! Lie and cheat and tell them whatever it is they want to hear but never never ever refuse their offer of money, because, in TV, as with life, you never know what tomorrow will bring.