Born In Damascus


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Born In Damascus
"This is meditative, melancholy, moving." | Photo: Scottish Documentary Institute

Laura Wadha's film opens with old video footage, "this is us on one of our holidays to Syria." A different time. Five minutes by the blue sea, the blue that sunshine colour. Not the dark of wine but the shine of tiles, that pristine glaze of optimism. She "filmed everything" to show people back home. March of 2007, blue skies of porcelain perfection. It had been snowing in Scotland the week before.

Wadha makes use not only of her footage of then but her Mac desktop, the distance of time not just in artefacts of video re- and then en-coded but Facetime to Canada. Her cousin part of that diaspora. One that starts in old Facebook conversations. "nothing is going right and we are worried". Memory lost, and regained. "it would make me sad but I would be happy to see them". The essence of time in the modern era. 398w is at once conceivable and not. A comment left seven years and change ago. A world away, and time.

Infants and cousins. A mum 25 years ago, a spark of recognition in gesture. Sense memory from a waterpark. "These days before". How personal can something be? How does intimacy interact with trauma? The dust on lens and pixel of recompression shows an unreliability of technology that the mind cannot match. That's a distortion of type, of tone, but it is only a partial elision. Memory can be an escape and it can be escaped from. "distance is hard", but time is the cold part of that equation.

This is meditative, melancholy, moving. The score tends to the ominous in places but it's an insistent string to a thread already being pulled. There's an overwhelming sense of this being a before, of a perspective from after. What lies between them, a during, enduring, not obfuscated or obscured but crossed. With sound and music by Ruth Knight and Harry Brokensha there are additions to Wadha's visuals. One might say camera but this is a product of editing, screen recording, screened recordings. The camera had at points in those past holidays been carried by her, indeed we hear her younger self talk of aspirations to photography that have come good.

Screened at Glasgow's 2022 Short Film Festival it continued in traditions in their programming of films that are intensely personal and those exploring the consequences of the various ongoing conflicts in the region. It's also not alone in the intermediating effect of the digital, not just screens and social networks but our ability to construct and remember in an era where we are surrounded by machines each seeking to capture different ghosts. In programme notes this was described as an attempt to reconnect, but that is within the film. Its real challenge as with any work so bound up in self is to make a connection between audience and subject. The first words are "That's me", and it is, was, continues to be. Wadha might have said it, but I could have, did just there. "That's me," I said, I could have, did just there. There's a denial at the heart of all acts of inhumanity. It takes only a moment of openness to look and to say "that's me." Born In Damascus creates just such a space.

Reviewed on: 17 May 2022
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After ten years apart, a Scottish filmmaker tries to reconnect with her closest cousin after their paths were separated by war.

Director: Laura Wadha

Year: 2021

Runtime: 16 minutes

Country: UK


EIFF 2021
GSFF 2022

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