Dalya's Other Country

PBS Premiere: June 26, 2017Check the broadcast schedule »

Filmmaker Statement

Dalya's Other Country follows my last film, The Light in Her Eyes, which was about a Quran school for women and girls in Damascus, Syria. On and off from 2005 to 2010 I lived in Damascus and often traveled to Aleppo. Witnessing the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world where ancient trade routes, commerce and culture were active--despite constraints imposed by the Syrian regime--made a deep impression on me. In 2012, while we were in distribution of The Light in Her Eyes, the battle for Aleppo began. I wanted to document a family or an individual connected to this city. My daughter was born in 2012, and I no longer had the flexibility to travel and leave home as I had for my previous film, so I searched for a way to tell a story about Aleppo from close to home. I met Dalya and her mother, Rudayna, shortly after they arrived in California from Aleppo and knew that I had found a compelling story.

Dalya and Rudayna's move to Los Angeles is not the typical Syrian refugee story that has dominated the news. They are a middle-class family with American citizenship; they had not suffered life in a refugee camp or tried to cross the Mediterranean in a raft. Nonetheless, they were struggling to adjust to a new culture and the loss of their home. Their story offers a lens into how a traditional Sunni woman and young girl try to hold onto their customs and traditions within the United States, which they sometimes perceive as an unwelcoming place.

The city that Dalya and Rudayna now inhabit is both familiar and unfamiliar to American viewers. The Southern California teenage lifestyle is ubiquitous, but Dalya inhabits a very particular subset of this community--an Arab and Muslim immigrant world. The home life of most Muslims, especially women, is very private. I have been able to shoot with this family over an extended period of time and this has allowed me to get to know them, gain their trust and gradually understand their issues and challenges in a deeper way. Dalya's Other Country is made in the tradition of observational cinema, favoring intimate cinematography and an emphasis on placing the audience in close connection with the subject matter. The scenes are edited to immerse the viewers in Dalya and Rudayna's world and create a human connection with the subjects so audiences understand the world from their perspective.

-- Julia Meltzer, Director