By Breny Osiris Aceituno, photos by Joey Anthon Jackson
There is a theater in Aarhus that caters to stories from all over the world. If one were wise, one would know that such a theatre can be a dangerous place for anyone settled into their comfort; for it can challenge the perspective of reality by showing one that the person on screen is more similar to the self than different. I mean, one does not, at least initially, have the choice of birthplace, the choice of life, the choice of stability. We are just born, and then we endure. Still, since danger is arguably inherent to the human condition, the theatre, then, is a perfect place to test one’s comfort.
Øst For Paradis is this theatre in Aarhus. Here, you can watch many films, telling stories from almost every corner of the world. And here, you can easily feel uncomfortable when in comfort; a discomfort that for Danes could be understood as a “troubled hygge”.
Øst For Paradis was a perfectly imperfect setting to bring back to the public attention the film “The War Show”- a documentary that narrates the events leading up to the Syrian Civil War through the eyes of a woman who, at the very least, does not subscribe to the stereotype attributed to women from Syria.
The movie, which is a collaboration between the Danish filmmaker Andreas Dalsgaard and Syrian radio host Obaidah Zytoon, tells the story of Syria with a very clear premise: “In any conflict, truth is the first victim”. These words are spoken by Obaidah herself, as she narrates the events that led to the Syrian Civil War. More specifically, she utters these words to describe the turning point, which accidentally transformed the resistance movement in Syria to an armed defense movement against the Assad government.
Det Jysk-Syriske Kulturkollektiv, a Syrian culture collective that emphasizes the integration of Syrian refugees, organized on October 13th a new showing of the film. Their aim was to have an exchange of experiences which are so polar opposite, they intimidate one another. In fact, according to Mads Thomsen, one of the organisers from Det Jysk-Syriske Kulturkollektiv, the whole design was meant to create an exchange of the two worlds, Danish and Syrian, almost towards the feeling of pain. The Danes and Syrians that filled the theater and watched the film with heavy hearts, became a part of this exchange. It was hard to witness the unspoken polarization of these two worlds, yet undoubtedly necessary in a country where the realities of a war can barely be expressed by first-hand witnesses.
The viewing of the film is an experiment, as is perhaps any cultural exchange. But beyond the experimental component, Det Jysk-Syriske Kulturkollektiv organised the event to stimulate conversation between those Syrians arriving in Denmark with broken hearts, and those receiving them with the privilege tryghed – the Danish cultural value which translates to a feeling of warmth, trust, safety and freedom. In this sense, the Syrian and Danish worlds could not be more opposite at the moment, and perhaps this is why such films are most significant in these uncomfortable contexts.
Obaidah, through the film, tells the story of the Syrian Civil War in seven chapters- Revolution, Suppression, Resistance, Siege, Memories, Frontlines, and Extremism. But, as the story develops, some of her friends, which too are protagonists in the beginning of the film, become part of the Syrian martyrdom that haunts her and all Syrians to this day.
The film then, becomes a personal account of war; and, therefore, parallels the feelings of a broken heart.
Of course, war is never an easy story to watch as pain and broken hearts are inherent to all conflicts. Still, in all war stories there are also accounts of bravery and hope. This is almost hauntingly demonstrated by a little girl of about 11 years old who is briefly interviewed by Obaidah. The little girl, who is seen barefaced and leading chants against Assad during a demonstration with a courage of at least a thousand men, is fearless. When asked if she was not afraid of being captured by the state soldiers and killed for her courage, she responds boldly saying that death is imminent and she will not fear it, or Assad’s forces. Then she smiles.
The scene is daunting, leaving the viewer speechless; but her smile is iconic. A symbol of hope. A symbol of change.