“When I held my camera and went to Homs... It was like holding a weapon with me. It’s very dangerous to hold a camera and travel around the country.”
Syria Through a Lens highlights the life, activism, and films of martyred Syrian filmmaker Bassel Shahade. On May 28th, 2012, Bassel was killed during a government assault on Homs, where he had been filming the aftermath of the violence in Houla.
Bassel was from the Qassa` neighborhood of Damascus, but had traveled widely in Syria and the world. He had hiked with friends throughout all the regions of Syria, as well as traveling solo by bicycle. In early 2011, he left Damascus on his motorcycle which he called “Lenin,” and passed through Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan, finally arriving at New Delhi.
Throughout the uprising, Bassel remained firmly committed to the principle of civil disobedience, preferring creative means to protest the regime. “The revolution started through nonviolent peaceful activism, and most likely will be carried on through it. We are trying to establish a society and a movement that could face any despotism and any tyrant,” he says in the video. His short film Saturday Morning Gift, centers on the horrors of violence during 2006 Israeli-Lebanese war.
Well before the wall of fear had began to crack in Syria, or even Tunisia, Bassel had dreamed of a revolution. He organized a protest at the Egyptian embassy in Damascus on January 28 2011 in solidarity with the Egyptians in Tahrir Square. Such an act was still unheard of at the time, and many joked that it was attended by more Syrian mukhabarat than protesters. In July 2011, he was arrested in the protest of artists and intellectuals and detained for three days. In fall, he left to the United States after receiving a Fulbright scholarship to study film at Syracuse University in New York.
While abroad, he continued working to promote non-violent protest in Syria through his film Singing to Freedom, in which he interviewed leftist intellectuals in the US such as Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, and Amy Goodman, as well as Syrian activist Razan Zaitounah who spoke in solidarity with Syrian protesters but also emphasize the value of non-violent protest. The film features clips of some of the most powerful and most clever protest songs and chants of the demonstrators. However, Bassel never felt satisfied being far from the events on the ground, and the uprising he had long waited for. He left for Syria during his winter break and never returned to the US.
Syria Through a Lens compiles clips of some of Bassel’s best short films, including Carrying Eid to Camps, The Reading Workshop, Singing to Freedom, and some of the last footage found on his camera before he was killed. Arguably his best film, Saturday Morning Gift, based on a true interview he conducted about the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese war, showcases the travesties of war from a child’s view.
*Editorial note: Some observers have doubts about Bassel`s connections but these doubts have never been substantiated.