Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 16, 2014 7:00 am 
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A Requiem for Syrian Refugees


New documentary on Syrian Kurdish refugees documents the toll of sectarian conflict in the Middle East

Children numbly adjust to living in UN tents while some adults wish they'd stayed and been killed by Bashar in Richard Wolf's short, austere documentary focused not simply on "Syrian refugees" as the title says but on on Kurdish refugees of the Syrian civil war concentrated at a large camp in Kawergosk, one of seven Kurdish refugee camps in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The film is in black and white, and while it presents painful images, for example of a boy dying from atrophy whom his mother can't care for and a girl lamenting the loss of her studies, the speakers are often stoical. The fear is that these, who are only among many thousands of refugees in the world, will simply be forgotten as the world focuses on seemingly more pressing issues, such as the Ebola epidemic or the new US-allies attacks on Iraq and Syria, in which more civilians are dying to serve a dubious plan to eliminate jihadi extremists without boots on the ground.

In January of 2014, award-winning documentary filmmaker Richard Wolf (of Behind the Veil, 2001, about Afghan women, Fatima, 2006 about a young Iraqi woman returning to Baghdad after the fall of Saddam, and Women of the Sand, 2012, about Mauritanian women) traveled as a one-man film team into Northern Iraq to observe Kawergosk, a UN camp that shelters 12,000 Syrian refugees and is now adjacent to ISL territory. Without special security or political affiliation, Wolf built trusting relationships with young people in the camp who became his film crew members and liaisons to people willing to share their personal stories. Scored to Gabriel Fauré's Requiem the film is a portrait of survival and a call for additional humanitarian aid, a motive underlined by frequent black screen pauses with printed message.

In effect these children and adults are living in extreme poverty, but they are not originally poor; some are middle class, and once had hopes. Lucky are those, perhaps, who know the simple peasant ways of dressing, cooking, and cleaning. But it's a bureaucratic world, dominated by graft, with bosses skimming off the top of what the majority wait in line and haggle for hours to get. The refugees handle it all with good grace.

The cooly observational approach has its limits. The film focuses on the present situation. We see some traditional singing and ceremonies. We observe some archival footage of Muslim Arab fighters attacking. But there is no explaining to the viewer of the language (languages, actually, which here include many Farsi and Arabic words) and culture of the Kurds or the politics and long historyof their existence in the surrounding region. How did they become refugees? We don't know the exact details. Wolf does not pry or explain. But then when he comes to his intertitles about these people's plight, he preaches a bit.

Wolf trained in filmmaking in New York, and has produced more than 30 documentary films in his career, many for international television networks (CNN, BBC, etc.). Much of his work focuses on the plight of women in third world countries.

A Requiem for Syrian Refugees, 72 mins., in Kurdish with English subtitles, premieres at Quad Cinema in New York City Friday, 17 October 2014.

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