Global activism on behalf of Syrian refugees falters as donors and activists become disinterested with the conflict, alumnae filmmakers Reilly Dowd (SFS ’13) and Wanjiku Ngare (SFS ’13) said at an event Oct. 29 in the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
Dowd and Ngare showcased their documentary “Dreams of Daraa,” a film about a woman’s experience with the Syrian civil war. The documentary focuses on Hanadi As-Saidi, a Syrian woman from Daraa, a city in southern Syria close to the Jordanian border. Rebel forces controlled the city until July of this year, when the Syrian government reclaimed the city. It was widely considered the center of the rebel forcesin the south of the country. Many of the city’s residents had to flee their homes after government forces took control.
After she left Syria, As-Saidi lived with her three children in the Jordanian Zaatari refugee camp, which is home to around 80,000 refugees, according to Dowd. Ngare and Dowd first met As-Saidi at the refugee camp in 2015.
Activists and donors are starting to become tired of hearing about and seeing stories about the Syrian civil war, which presents a challenge to filmmakers like Dowd and Ngare, according to Dowd.
“When you’re talking with potential funders or with potential distributors, there’s Syria fatigue, there’s so many films that people have seen about the refugee crisis which is sad to say people are kind of tired of seeing this or hearing this,” Dowd said.
The film promotes the education of Syrian women and girls, according to Ngare, who helps raise awareness and gather support for the documentary’s cause as the impact producer of the documentary.
“We would love to see a world in which we could create a way to support them and their education and their schooling, the girls specifically, and Hanadi as well,” Ngare said.
Ngare and Dowd said they think their film is an atypical documentary about the Syrian civil war.
“I think many of these films are really set on the front lines of the war and they’re told from a man’s perspective, and what’s so unique about this film is two things: one is that it’s Hanadi’s point of view throughout the arc of the story, and then secondarily she goes back to Syria at a time when most people are fleeing, really in search of her home and her husband and answers, and so it’s this question of how far would you go for your family, and I don’t think many of those other films are asking that question,” Dowd said.
The film documents As-Saidi’s attempts to find her husband in Syria and her testimony of her experience at the United Nations in Geneva. Dowd said that As-Saidi’s visit to the United Nations frames the rest of her story.
Dowd, the director of the documentary, said she incorporated the perspective of As-Saidi’s children by asking them about their lives outside of the conflict.
“When we first started filming them they were 2, 3 and 4 years old, and I just don’t really love it when people interview kids about politics or war or Assad, but I wanted to get their perspective in the film, and so I would ask them things like, ‘Draw something that makes you happy or draw home or draw Syria, and these animations that you see throughout the film are all inspired by their perspective of Syria and what they’ve been through,” Dowd said.
As-Saidi now resides in Germany, though her request for asylum was denied there. Dowd said the title of the film, “Dreams of Daraa,” comes from As-Saidi’s desire to return home to Syria.
“And this is why we call the film Dreams of Daraa, because it is so much, her homeland is something that is special to her and ultimately we end with the final line of the film right now [which] is ‘Syria is the dream of every Syrian, and it is my dream to return there someday,’” Dowd said.