x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Homage to Amiralay

Arab filmmakers should learn from the career of sadly departed Syrian director Omar Amiralay.

Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Michael Moore. Whatever the genre, aspiring filmmakers will have their own particular favourite director. In this part of the world, aspiring auteurs may look for inspiration closer to home.

As The National reported yesterday, five filmmakers from Abu Dhabi are heading to the Berlin Film Festival this weekend as part of an exchange programme, where they will meet producers from across Europe. But the group could do a lot worse than study the career of one Arab filmmaker who started his career in the German capital.

The Syrian documentary director Omar Amiralay, who passed away on Saturday in Damascus at the age of 65 of a cerebral thrombosis, honed his skills in Berlin, before moving to Paris and eventually back to Damascus. There he became one of the foremost commentators on Syrian society, producing more than 20 documentaries in a 45-year career.

Amiralay was politically outspoken, and a critic of the Baath Party, and many of his documentaries were banned in Syria. But his artistic sensibilities meant he was treasured by fans, even some in the establishment.

Last week, he signed a declaration from independent Syrian figures in support of the street protests taking place in Egypt. To the end, Amiralay stood up for what he believed in. It is a lesson the new generation of filmmakers would do well to remember.