DAMASCUS: A Syrian film that has scooped a string of prestigious awards in recent months barely made it to screens because of the dangers the crew faced in the war-ravaged country, according to its director.
Filmmaker Basil al-Khatib’s “Mariam” won prizes at festivals in Cairo on Oct. 13, Oran, Algeria in September and Dakhla, Morocco, in February. Khatib believes that it is this focus on the “human element” in Syria’s conflict which has made the film a hit with festival audiences and juries.
It tells the story of three women, each named Mariam, who lived through three different conflicts in Syria’s recent history and overcome the horrors of war through love.
The Palestinian-Syrian director said the film’s crew had to contend with the risks of Syria’s civil war as they struggled to finish the production.
“Some of the scenes were shot in very dangerous sites, with battles raging nearby,” Khatib said. “We’d go out to shoot and didn’t know whether we’d come back home alive that evening.”
Khatib wanted the film to focus on how humanity can shine through in conflict. It opens with a line of poetry by Khatib’s father: “We have lost everything, but we still have love.”
In the film, Khatib said, “love, peace and forgiveness are victorious, as we overcome the difficulties we are living.”
Khatib said the film’s name is a nod to the Virgin Mary, who is associated with love and kindness.
“Mariam,” he continued, “sums up the situation in Syria, its suffering and the wounds and pain women are made to bear. ... It celebrates Syrian women.”
The story of the first Mariam is set in 1918, as World War I drew to a close.
“That era was a key to our history,” Khatib said. “The region’s future was unclear at the time as the Ottoman Empire came to an end.”
The film’s second part explores the impact of the 1967 War. Its focus is a widow who refuses to leave her home in Qunaitra, on the Golan Heights’ border.
The film’s final story returns to Syria’s turbulent present, where the third Mariam faces the worsening conflict.
“When a son gives up on his mother,” the young Mariam tells her father after he abandons his own mother in a shelter, “he gives up on his memory, his country and all that is noble in him.”