Syria on Film: Ghayath Almadhoun’s poetic revolt
In the context of Syria on Film, a Bozar programme aimed at throwing some light, via films and discussions, on one of the darkest pages in the recent history of the Middle East, the Syrian-Palestinian poet Ghayath Almadhoun will present his poetry film The Celebration.
Since 2008, Ghayath Almadhoun has lived in Stockholm, where he sought political asylum when he was a guest there at an international poetry festival. “That’s how I came into contact with the Swedish poet Marie Silkeberg, who asked me to contribute to an anthology about the bombing and shelling of Gaza that year,” he told us. “On the basis of that fragment, she made a short poetry film, which was selected for a festival in Berlin. As one out of more than a thousand entries from 92 different countries! Since then, we have kept making poetry films together on a regular basis. But we don’t want to be professional film-makers. First and foremost, we are poets: film is, above all, a way of ‘publishing’ poetry.”
In The Celebration, you combine images of devastated Berlin in 1945 with poetry about Damascus and the war in Syria today. Why?
Ghayath Almadhoun: Firstly, because what happened in Europe then is connected to the Middle East today. I think the Palestinian people is still paying the price for what the Nazis did to the Jews back then. Europe had a problem with “the Jewish question” long before that: there has been anti-Semitism here for more than 500 years. After the Second World War, Europe’s leaders wanted to establish, once and for all, a place where the Jewish people would feel safe. That became Israel. But the Palestinians had to relinquish 80% of their land for it. What’s happening now in Palestine is directly related to what happened previously in Europe. The second reason is that the reconstruction of Berlin gives me hope for Damascus, which has now been almost destroyed by war too. Berlin, today, has become a fantastic place that makes me feel optimistic, despite everything. A third reason is that the footage I use has never been seen before. Usually, you have to pay a ridiculous amount of money to show this material. Which is absolutely absurd: it’s about our recent history – surely, everyone should be able to witness that!
Back to poetry, then. Do you see yourself as an activist poet?
Almadhoun: [Firmly] No, definitely not. Look, I write because I reflect on my experiences and memories, like every “normal” poet, you could say. It’s just that my experiences don’t exactly look “normal”: my families in Gaza and Syria have been bombed; my house is ruined; lots of my friends have died. I often write about that, but you could hardly call that “activist” poetry as a result. One of the saddest effects of the Israeli occupation is the destruction of our literature, as Palestinian poets today can hardly write about anything else besides that single question, the obsession with a Palestinian state. If the Palestinians had a really decent life, you would get a different kind of poetry too.
What can poetry mean for Palestine or Syria?
Almadhoun: What can poetry mean for humanity, I would ask. That is the crucial question for me. For example: I admire Western civilisation, but above all for its great philosophers, writers, and artists. I’m not romantic: poetry can’t save the world. But it can touch people and change them from the inside. Just as a poem once changed me.
Photo © Cato Lein
SYRIA ON FILM • 7/12, 14.30 (The Celebration: 17.00), gratis/gratuit/free, bozar, rue Ravensteinstraat 23, Brussel/Bruxelles, 02-507.82.00, www.bozar.be