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"HOMELAND IS NOT A SERIES" // production Diary part 2

Field of Vision - Homeland Is Not A Series from Field Of Vision on Vimeo.

These posts are grouped around parts of the "Syrian Monologue" by Wasim Ghrioui from the film "Homeland is not a series." You can find a full interview with Heba Amin, Don Karl and Caram here.

All experiences and views in this are my own and may not reflect anyone else's.

Izmir, November 6th-10th

This doesnt mean we all like each other, we dont have time to like each other

I’m invited to a planning meeting for one of the networks I’m part of. I meet an old friend of mine, the Mediterranean Sea. I’ve missed her and her waters. Most of the time, I am online with Don and Heba after the meetings are over, going over changes, edits and new cuts. I am not very sociable, although the only working internet connection in the hotel is in the main hall we gather in. By the end of the meeting, rather than feel more connected to people I have been working with for the past three years, I end up feeling disconnected and a bit sad. Ever since leaving Beirut, life has taken a turn for the more glamorous, but more useless. I miss people, and connecting with them. 

Izmir, November 10-12th 

Sometimes I feel this is a natural reserve for some endangered species of human. Or Noahs Ark.

Everyone here seems to speak Arabic. I am staying near Basmane, near the old Bazar, where everyone seems to have an Arabic-Speaking/Kurdish/Syrian barber. It is not the most glamorous quarter of the city, but somehow, I feel in my place here, sleeping on the pinkest sheets in the world, then leaving the hotel to find myself on the life-vest souk. Izmir is a crossing point to Greece, where the Syrians who enter Turkey stay for a while before giving up, or deciding that a better life may await in Europe. Every shop here sells life vests, priced somewhere between 150-200 Lire. 

On the 12th, I receive a text from a Lebanese friend. Our film says that Beirut is not a warzone. Her text tells me that multiple suicide bombs have gone off in Beirut, emanating from the refugee settlement of Burj-El Barajne- 40 dead, 200 injured. She is glad I am somewhere safer than I was a couple of weeks ago. Her family is safe. The shock sets in. I was just there and left, convinced that it is not a warzone, but a place filled with humanity. My friend tells me to go enjoy life in Izmir. I spend the next two days in an internet café, with very few interruptions, working on the film remotely. I am surrounded by children playing wargames, and my conversations with adults revolve around a coming war against Russia. 

Istanbul, November 13th

They lifted us out like sacks of wheat. 

One of the airports. I’m lost for a moment, cut off from any kind of communications I carry on my person. A telephone card that does not work until I use it with the fifth telephone. I already miss Izmir.

I ask five people how to get to the residence. Each one of them tells me to go in a different direction. I cross Taksim square five times in a random pattern. Finally, a girl called Deniz kindly accompanies me to the corner of the street. A political science student, she wants to come back to Berlin someday. We joke about the current political situation in the country and that we haven't been arrested yet for talking about it.

They know that many will die before the evolution of the next generation.

Another message, this time on social media. “I am in Paris but i'm safe. Staying at friend's place tonight. Thanks for your msg…” “What’s going on in Paris?” Facebook suddenly discovers a new emergency "Safe" button it had been keeping hidden during yesterday's bombings.

A line in the film talks about “Attacks in Paris, Berlin, Brussels”. Paris has just been attacked. It’s the second time this year. 126 dead. Many Injured. We’re waiting for an update on the film. I begin crying. I can’t stop for the next two days. This time, it’s personal, rather than an abstract news story. Where’s the update? Don “I usually have a much thicker skin, but this time…” We work until five or six in the morning. 

The next morning, it doesn’t matter. I watch a minute of the new cut that has miraculously appeared on my hard drive. After thirty seconds, it’s too much to bear. Tears clog my eyes. I don’t know anyone that died in Paris. But I fear what will follow this- something very much like manhunts frequently depicted in the series, on a much larger scale. A pretext for yet another War on Terror. Another ten years of inhumane, self-serving, geopolitical nonsense about a place that is currently only relevant as a meeting point of armies and a testing ground for new, ever more advanced weaponry.

That it will be used as an excuse to cut back on civil liberties, on human rights. That we will invent a new class of human who does not require the application of these rights. That even more people will lose their homes and lives.

Symbolically, it is a carefully coordinated, highly visible attack by the Other- maybe not as different as they are represented- on the values that have been the bulwark of modern democracies for the past 200 years- liberté, fraternité and equality. In Arabic, Horreya, A7’aweyya we Mosawa’.

Ever since 1991, I've been hearing announcements of wars over media. And then, just as it seems to be over, or slips my attention, a new one is declared, or an old one continues. Has there ever been such a thing as a lasting peace? Will I ever witness it in my lifetime? 

Istanbul, November 14th 

If you ask anyone how are you they wont answer- they dont know how to answer.

I’m much too late for the journalism workshop I’m attending. I’m tired and haven’t slept. It’s a workshop on cultural policy. Very fitting, somehow. I’m shocked at how unfazed my  colleagues are at the events unfolding. On a whim, I show them our film. Again, I can’t sit through it without tears. 

I realise how close this story is to me. On January 07th, I was glued to the screen, following every news outlet for updates. It ruined a date for me. 

This time, I just switch off the news. I’ve heard the story too often, seen the images and heard the chatter, the discourse. I catch glimpses of the distraught, of the panic, of the fear in peoples eyes, the suspicion that such an attack brings with it, in the reports I watch. I hear the beginning of an alarmist rhetoric, polemic. Toxic. Potentially deadly. I need a drink or five, or ten. I end up getting all of them and locking myself in.

January hadn’t been enough- the public reaction had possibly been too differentiated, too united, maybe even too anti-government. A year of refugee “crisis”, sensationalist news reports about ISIS and other extremist organisations, the "fall" of the great left hope in Greece later, public opinion seems to have shifted towards, if not support, something that is not a wide opposition to a new war of ideologies. 

I had the image of a man sitting behind a huge desk in January, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, rubbing his hands together and celebrating "Compared to 9/11, that was easy". He must be really happy today.

Istanbul, November 16th

Hollande announces war in a pale imitation of George Bush’s “We will smoke them out” speech in 2001. After almost five years of inaction, the international community is “doing something” about Syria. Bombing what is left of the country to bits in another War on Terror. By now, I’m out of tears- cynicism has set in once more

ISIS appears to be a violent terrorist organisation, and very possibly, they have the worst of intentions. Possibly, they are the successors to the counterforce that Al Qaida became on two occasions- once in the cold war, and once the war grew cold. There is enough written about how they have been supported by Saudi Arabia, the US and other States who have an interest in the region for it to be considered extensive research and proof.

Many contradictory things happen in the coming weeks- a NATO alliance is formed, many nations who have so far been decrying the violence in Syria send forces to- temporarily, they say- increase the violence and collateral damage with a military intervention agains DAESH. Some British politician warns that this is going to be a long process. The opposing voice this time is vocal, but countered by a strong voice that supports such action and suspects at home.  

We decide not to alter the film- there are parts that are painfully ironic and cynical that hurt us. They remind us why we started making the film in the first place.

Berlin, November 17th

This one especially was written by an Egyptian- he’s pretending to be Syrian to get Asylum Papers.

My mother has sent me a poem I hadn't noticed yet. It is by Nizar Qabbani. It is a perfect end for this film and a perfect beginning for a new experiment. It may be old-fashioned and slightly orientalist, but calligraphy is something I have been doing for a large number of years now, without putting it to any use beyond my personal entertainment- and the occasional reminder of the beauty of the names of some women. I've borrowed a few cameras from Alex Berlin for a journalism workshop. We put them to use filming my hands. 

I realise I've started thinking of our output as the ASA episodically, almost as if we've turned into a TV series of our own. What I'm working on here may very well turn out to be the third episode. For a moment, I think we may include it in HNS. I realise this works better as an extension, and the message is different. And in about thirty languages.

It's going to be called "Lying on Camera.". 

November 20th

A group of gunmen, apparently affiliated to Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb shoot 20 people at a hotel in Bamako, Mali. Heba had just been there last month. It's strange, in the context of the film, how these events keep following us around. I'm worried for Berlin and Brussels… and somehow, I'm glad when we are later asked to take them out of the film. 

November 30th

Not to know your own situation!

It's been more than a month since we started making this film, we realise. It has already come a lot further than we expected our crappy footage would take us- it has become a film in it's own right. I'm dying to adjust timings, to see the thing finished and as it exists in my head. 

Our editor, Ahmed Hanifa, the brother of Ammar, has worked a lot of magic on this. In spite of his ideosyncratic working style, he does not let us down and seems to know what we- three directors from very different backgrounds- want. If not that, what we need. We watch version after version, spend sleepless nights up, trimming, adding and subtracting tiny ideas. It's highly frustrating to have to wait for renders from Cairo every evening before making any kind of new decision. We're flying blind through the Berlin night and hoping that our dreams come true in Cairo. 


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