Tag: sisters

Shiny but dark

I watch agog as Rami, a 30 year old Syrian, helps his friend change his baby’s nappy, it is so impressive at how well they work in unison, an accurate operation well practised. Is this the image westerners expect of modern men in male dominated Syria?

Later I am sat alone reading a daily paper, there is an article about sexual harassment.

Gaith is a 25 bachelor who regularly harasses girls by following them on the street and praising their beauty. He knows that his behaviour is religiously and socially unacceptable, but justifies it because “Girls like to hear romantic phrases from us” he said, “and some of them laugh and respond.”

However he would never tolerate such talk against his young sisters, “My sisters are respectable girls, not like the available girls on the street. If somebody dare look at my sisters, I would smash his bones.”

The penalties for having sex out of wedlock are high here; despite Syria being a modern secular society it is still filled with dark traditions. “I would be killed if my family found out” she tells me, “By your father?” I ask “No not my father” she says, then, thinking for a minute, “My brother would do it”.

Now she feels she can never trust another Arabic man. The treasured twins she’d been carrying had to be aborted in secret, when she asked him for help he didn’t want to know, “If you’ve been with me you could have been with anyone” he told her. The operation cost her 25000 Syrian pounds and was performed in utmost secrecy.

This is a modern-looking woman in a modern-looking society but the modernity seems like a facade that hides a much darker side. Single-handed and undeterred she has made it her mission not to abandon her country but to attempt to change it from within.

Later whilst scanning the papers for big stories, I read of ‘modern’ forward-looking secular Syria ‘banning the veil’ followed by a story about an honour killing just outside of Aleppo.

A 28 year old girl was raped. Distressed, she didn’t want to go home so went to confess to her uncle who told her father, they got together and had her own brother kill her. All 4 have been arrested, and under Syrian law all men will face the maximum prison sentence of 3 years for the honour killing.

It wasn’t so long ago that Syria, like Saudi and other Arab countries, had no sentence at all for such killings. That honour killers can now be sent to jail for 3 years is seen as progress in this complex and difficult land.

Liberace in Boulder (Best Festival Ever)

After Sundance Samir went to stay with his family, it was poignant moment, he met his wife for the first time in 5 years, they held each other, hugging and crying, very moving. The young Casanova felt like an old man now.. I left him there for 4 weeks came back to the UK.

We were reunited when I returned to show the film in Boulder, Colorado. Samir was a different man, he’d been groomed by his loving wife. She’d even cleaned all his fingernails and toe nails as well as groomed his ponytail. I thought he was maybe be going to reunite with her when his visa eventually come through. But no, he told me he’d been bored and was desperate to get back on the road with the film. He wanted to get away again, so we took to the air and landed in Boulder, a great Colorado town where we met the fabulous Beeck sisters. They are an amazing trio who make films together with fabulously supportive parents. The best hosts yet. We were received in splendour with a fine hotel, drinks and all, but no cigarettes, Samir nearly got a ticket for smoking in the street. Boulder is one of those clean US towns but the Beeck sisters made up for that, especially Robin who would nip away for crafty cigarettes whenever she got the chance. We developed an intimate relationship, like kids behind the school bike sheds smoking secretly.

The closing night was in a 850 seat theatre which was packed. There was an awards ceremony before the film, we were at the bar as usual casually watching the show not expecting to be part of it as our film hadn’t been screened yet… Then out of the blue we were called out and we were given an award of excellence. They played our film and Samir was taken back stage behind the screen to where a piano was hidden. Samir changed into a tuxedo and took his place at a grand piano, he was lit by a bright light from above, then, as the film finished, the screen rolled back to reveal him sitting there. The crowd cheered and he played for 30 minutes, it became a rock concert. I stood looking from the sidelines thinking of all the times he’d told me he wanted fame, recognition, in America; and here it was. I felt and proud and happy for Samir that my film had brought him a little closer to his dream.