"A Dream's End": Temporalities in Abounaddara's Emergency Cinema

Curator's Note

Each week, Syrian filmmaking collective Abounaddara uploads a video onto their Facebook page. Depicting glimpses of life under siege, monologues from victims and survivors, or ironic montages of the grim realities faced in the ongoing catastrophes, the films—what they term “emergency cinema”—aim to shed light on the individuals affected by those events. The videos are short, ranging from a minute or so to under ten, and each one different, be it in content, motive, or style. The anonymous, self-funded, and self-taught filmmakers work from within Syria and without. This recent one, “A Dream’s End,” follows a format visible in some of their other videos. It begins with the silhouette of a man in close-up, backlit against a bright window. As with most of the videos, this one has little context. It begins, in media res if you will, and we hear the man speak. Although the video’s beginning or end might seem arbitrary, the man’s narrative attempts to provide a conventional structure. He describes his decision to leave Syria, the steps he took to find a way out, the arduous journey through checkpoints and across the border, and then shares his disbelief that he might actually be safe. As he talks, the camera, mostly steady, stays focused on his head, framed a second time by the window. Jump cuts punctuate his story like chapters, making the video feel much longer than it is, drawing attention to the details he describes. The videos often focus on the power of testimony—not so much over that of the image, perhaps, as much as a counterpoint to it. The collective’s manifesto argues for the right to self-representation; Charif Kiwan, the collective’s spokesperson, calls their videos “bullet films”—short, urgent, and aimed at breaking through the visual noise associated with media coverage of war and atrocity. His language is suggestive of the instantaneous, a desire to convey all at once, to collapse time. In one interview, Kiwan explains that a new mode of representation requires a new form of temporality. Some sense of this emerges in “A Dream’s End,” where the time of “ending” and “beginning” rub up against each other. Indeed, in Abounaddara’s video archive, begun in 2011 and which has since gained visibility and garnered awards, the tension between completion and continuation generates questions about the practices of viewing the collection, but more importantly also about a viewer’s response to it.


Really, a genre that deconstructs traditional media... and of course, that mainstream media really hasn't covered. In my dissertation I am studying through social network analysis, the straining of ties in collective filmmaking. I wonder what the events are like, the network analysis of strong/weak ties, structural holes, etc. No doubt this takes a tremendous amount of strength from all participants.

Thanks for this post, Zainab, and for introducing the work of this film collective. I'm very interested in how innovative media forms can challenge the dominant representations of politics and events, and this clip along with your post has really got me thinking about the possibilities and implications of shrinking/collapsing the temporal dimension.

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