Downloads: Press Release
Film depicts ongoing destruction in strife-torn country
Syria’s Arab Spring, like other similar movements in the region, began with hope. In early 2011, autocratic governments throughout the Middle East and North Africa seemed to be on the verge of receding peacefully, and Syrian protestors massed to demonstrate against the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad. The uprising quickly gave way to conflict, however, and by 2016 the Syrian civil war had claimed 470,000 lives and displaced 11 million people.
The new documentary The War Show focuses on some of the idealists who joined the early Syrian resistance. Co-director and narrator Obaidah Zytoon, a Damascus activist and radio broadcaster, turns her camera on her friends, a close-knit group of millennials who like listening to classic rock, hanging out on the beach and organizing anti-Assad protests. “We were united in hatred of subordination and love of uniqueness,” Zytoon says.
Zytoon and Andreas Dalsgaard’s The War Show has its national broadcast premiere on the PBS documentary series POV (Point of View) on July 3, 2017 at 10 p.m. (check local listings). POV is American television’s longest-running independent documentary series, now in its 30th season. The War Show, which premiered at the 2016 Venice Film Festival and won the Venice Days Award, is the second feature film in a special POV series highlighting the ongoing Syrian and refugee crises.
The War Show begins in 2011. Civil war has not yet engulfed Syria, and activists demonstrate peacefully. In one early scene, a boisterous group of protesters sing and chant anti-Assad slogans. Zytoon’s friends, also carrying cameras, are grinning ear to ear as the early optimism of the Arab Spring seems to foretell a peaceful, secular revolution: “Muslims and Christians, freedom for all!” they cry.
Zytoon describes her young friends as they hang out and discuss plans. Houssam is an architecture student, Rabea a drummer, Lulu a law student. The men have long hair and dress stylishly. The women do not wear hijabs. The friends mount a protest that ends in confusion. “The plan was to have a flash demonstration, videotape it and go home,” Zytoon says later. But they start the protest before enough participants have arrived, and government thugs break it up.
At one intimate gathering, the group discusses the future. “We can’t show this footage until 2014, when we will all be free,” someone says. Someone else adds, “We will all be dead.”
A road movie, The War Show depicts scenes of resistance and destruction throughout the country, from Zabadani to Homs to Qassab. Cities lie in ruins. People scurry through the streets to avoid sniper fire. Children are wounded in bombings. Interview subjects, their faces blurred, describe the effects of war. In Kafranbel in northern Syria, the camera rolls as secular protestors encounter a group demonstrating for religious rule. In one wry scene, a young boy carries a secularist placard but, seemingly confused, shouts a religious slogan. Questioned, he responds with a sheepish grin, “I just want to be filmed.”
The War Show is, in part, about the power of the camera, not only to record events, but to prompt them. “The regime’s biggest fear was those who held cameras, so they were the first to be eliminated,” Zytoon says. In one agonizing sequence, young men in the street are drawn to her camera, and one by one they pull up their sleeves and pull down their waistbands in order to display the hideous injuries that, they say, they received at the hands of the regime. “The camera was an event in itself and seemed like salvation for the people. But it was also a source of danger,” Zytoon says. “We couldn’t be in one place for too long.”
A shattering portrait of a country engulfed in tragedy, The War Show depicts the ongoing toll the conflict has taken on Syria—and, devastatingly, on a committed group of friends.
“The war in Syria is hard for many to comprehend,” said Dalsgaard. “When we are fed daily with news about streams of refugees, death and destruction, we sometimes need to close our eyes to protect ourselves. The War Show does not dwell on graphic images of blood and corpses. Instead it follows seven nonviolent young men and women ?s dreams of freedom. For us, it has been important to tell the story about these young people, to give them a voice.”
“This film is a bold celebration of youthful zeal engulfed in tragedy,” said POV executive producer Justine Nagan. “The War Show reveals how quickly things went wrong in Syria, and we see how bravely the youth stood by their ideals in the face of violence. With a strong female voice providing us glimpses into the earliest days of the Arab Spring, this film is a significant cinematic addition to our series on the Syrian conflict.”
The War Show will stream online on pov.org in concurrence with its broadcast.
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About the Filmmakers:
Andreas Dalsgaard, Director, Writer
Andreas Dalsgaard has directed documentaries for over a decade. Educated in anthropology at Aarhus University and Paris Diderot University and film directing at the National Film School of Denmark, he has made award-winning films that have been shown at festivals worldwide and include Afghan Muscles (2007, American Film Institute Best Documentary), Copenhagen (2009, winner of the CILECT Prize 2010, awarded by the world association of film schools), Bogota Change (2009), The Human Scale (2012, Al Jazeera Documentary Film Festival Audience Award),Life Is Sacred (2015) and numerous shorts. Dalsgaard is co-founder of the production company Elk Film, writes and directs fiction for both film and theater and has given conferences and taught master classes worldwide.
Obaidah Zytoon, Director, Writer
Obaidah Zytoon was born in Zabadani, Syria in 1976. She studied English literature at the University of Damascus before becoming a radio host and producer, working both in Syria and internationally. In 2008, Zytoon produced her first documentary film, Through Women’s Eyes. Following the 2011 Syrian uprising, Zytoon co-founded the Syrian artist-activist collective Waw Al Wasel, which produces multimedia art and short films related to the Syrian conflict. She has also coached and trained young Syrians entering media and radio production. The War Show is Zytoon’s first film as a director.
Directors, Writers: Andreas Dalsgaard, Obaidah Zytoon; Cinematographers: Obaidah Zytoon, Dana Bakdounes, Amr Kheito, Anonymous, Wassim Anonymous, Lars Skree; Editor: Adam Nielsen; Producers: Miriam Nørgaard, Alaa Hassan, Ronnie Fridthjof, David B. Sørensen; Co-Producers: Satu Majava, Joonas Berghäll; Music: Colin Stetson
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Produced by American Documentary, Inc., POV is public television’s premier showcase for nonfiction films. Since 1988, POV has been the home for the world’s boldest contemporary filmmakers, celebrating intriguing personal stories that spark conversation and inspire action. Always an innovator, POV discovers fresh new voices and creates interactive experiences that shine a light on social issues and elevate the art of storytelling. With our documentary broadcasts, original online programming and dynamic community engagement campaigns, we are committed to supporting films that capture the imagination and present diverse perspectives.
POV films have won 36 Emmy® Awards, 19 George Foster Peabody Awards, 12 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, three Academy Awards®, the first-ever George Polk Documentary Film Award and the Prix Italia. The POV series has been honored with a Special News & Documentary Emmy Award for Excellence in Television Documentary Filmmaking, three IDA Awards for Best Curated Series and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers Award for Corporate Commitment to Diversity. Learn more at www.pbs.org/pov/.
Major funding for POV is provided by PBS, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding comes from Nancy Blachman and David desJardins, Bertha Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, The Fledgling Fund, Marguerite Casey Foundation, Ettinger Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, and public television viewers. POV is presented by a consortium of public television stations, including KQED San Francisco, WGBH Boston and THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG.