Routine, graphic news stories on the persistent Syrian conflict fail to depict the mental and emotional struggles of “darkened out figures called refugees”, says British filmmaker Sean McAllister, who was at the Dharamshala International Film Festival to screen his much-acclaimed documentary A Syrian Love Story. “This film allows the audience to have 75 minutes in the living room of those people’s lives, which is so rare,” McAllister told Scroll.in in an interview.
A Syrian Love Story, which McAllister shot entirely on a $350 camera over five years, was nominated for the 2016 British Academy Film Awards in the Best Debut category, and won the Grand Jury prize at the Sheffield Documentary Festival in 2016, among other awards. During the filming, McAllister was seized by the Syrian secret police and held in prison for five days.
A story of hope, dreams and despair, the film is about comrades and lovers Amer and Raghda, who met in a Syrian prison cell. In 2009, when McAllister started shooting the film, Raghda was back in prison, leaving her husband Amer to look after their four boys.
Raghda was eventually released, but the Arab Spring brought a different storm in their lives.
The family fled to Lebanon and then to France, where they were given political asylum. They watched the revolution from afar, waiting for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to fall. However, in exile, Raghda’s mental heath suffered. She attempted suicide. The film shows how, in finding freedom in exile, their relationship begins to fall apart.
In a video interview with Scroll.in, McAllister shared his own struggles in making the documentary and what he thinks of the way refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries are being treated in Europe and elsewhere.