film director


Written by Vincent Magnenat

The Horyou Team met M. Mohamed Malas, the Syrian film director known for Passion (2005) and Ladder to Damascus (2013). Malas was in Geneva to preside over the jury for the feature film section of the FIFOG, the Geneva’s International Oriental Film Festival.

1) How to you feel to be present at FIFOG?

It’s a great pleasure to be here representing Arabic cinema. It is important that this type of space/event exists because Arab films do not get a lot of exposure. Any opportunity to represent it is more than welcome. I’m involved in these types of Festival because they are opportunities to take Arabic Cinema to places it doesn’t have the chance to be shown. For this I am happy that my movie “Amir” participated in this beautiful festival last year and received one of the awards.

2) What message do you want to convey through your films to your audience?

I am focused on making Syrian films, I consider myself a storyteller rather than a professional producer. I create films when I have something to voice about my country. For forty years, I have taken my camera to tell the story of the authentic Syria and also the vision of the power struggles within the country and the people. What I’m most interested in is the humanity behind it all so the real Syrian citizen because no one portrays us under that light. Critics say that I am the producer in search of what is lost. I am always in search of what is missing and I try to find a way to gently remind the audience what they lack.

3) Apart from cinema, how do you take action towards the causes you care most about?

Naturally, I have literature. I wrote and signed books in which I try to explain and bring understanding to the sensations that my photographs evoke.


By Amma Aburam and Vincent Magnenat

The Horyou team in Geneva continued its adventures at the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH) last Saturday where it met Hajooj Kuka, director of “Beats of the Antonov.” His documentary is an account of the Sudan war from a new, inspiring angle. It’s all about music. Music is what keeps the populations in these war-torn zones going through their everyday lives; it gives them courage to face their dire circumstances. Culturally and spiritually, music is a miraculous means to sustain these communities. Kuka is a very cool guy – open-minded in many ways, and our discussion led to the discovery of an inspiring cinematic visionary.

On the human condition and the inspiration behind the film:

Kuka’s inspiration lies in music. The ongoing war in the Sudan has had a major impact on him. There have been very few breaks in the conflict in 55 years. In his documentary, Kuka focuses on the Sudanese reality but not the war-torn side that we tend to see and hear about. He focuses on how people keep living despite it all. It is all about the music and how life moves forward in a “party scene” that exists in parallel to the conflict. Many people in the country go out, party and dance; there is a daily connection to communal music. k “In refugee camps, the resilience is astounding,” Kuka said. “Such resilient behavior has to be shown to the outside world.” He himself has been inspired by partying in a refugee camp. “Human beings are complicated constructions, and the idea of a person that is always sad or a victim is never true because people always find a way to smile. In times like these you realize the importance of life because you know you can lose it any second,” Kuka said. He also emphasizes that it is in those hard moments that people seek happiness and increasingly value life. “People in Sudan are happier than people here right now in Geneva,” Kuka said jokingly. That disconnect and contrast of happiness in dire situations is the principal idea behind his film.

The film: a solution for Sudan?

Kuka uses the documentary in a solution-oriented manner with the music. “There’s a huge focus on wars throughout the world, but not on the Sudanese war, but they all teach us the same things,” he said. “The scope of this war is identity shift. Exclusion exists and the response to that is simple: admit diversity, celebrate it and find a way to use it.” For him, the key is to allow coexistence, the mingling of people and let Sudan become what it’s meant to be in all its diversity. “The need for a nonreligious government is pressing,” Kuka said. “No ethnicity or religion should be above another.” The film showcases many facets of society, from regular individuals to free thinkers as well as refugees. The conclusion is the same: According to Kuka, “the real way of seeing identity is to separate it from politics and remember that first and foremost we are all human. Identity is in the way we dance, in simply eating, sleeping and living our lives.”

On Dreaming, Acting and Inspiring:

To dream for Kuka is to consume art and to reproduce it. But what really catches his attention is the suffering of people: “The point is to be useful,” he said. “I would love to produce romantic films or comedies, but they will not have the same impact as a smart documentary. I guess it is definitely possible to do comedies in which reality is slipped in to a certain extent.” In terms of taking action, Kuka has decided to train young people in the art of film. “It is about being self-sufficient, about documenting your own reality, hence your own history” he said. The media has covered the conflict in Sudan, but to Kuka, it is less connected, less accurate and less truthful. “Of course, strangers to the cause will bring in a certain audience to what is happening in Sudan, but their views will remain by definition shallow – not truthful enough for the Sudanese that is living the actual war,” Kuka said. “Beats of the Antonov” is the first Sudanese production to win an award at the Toronto International Film Festival, which it did in 2014. For Kuka, “the first step to taking action is to know there is an issue to start discussing.”

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