Syria Mobile Film Festival

He couldn’t forget what he saw

von Theresa Schmidt

Theresa Schmidt

Donaustraße 5

12043 Berlin




Berlin 2016. Foto: Amar Matar
The films show the war but also things you don’t see on the news. Berlin 2016. Photo: Amar Matar

Syrian Mobile Films Festival

Five years ago, journalist and documentary filmmaker Amer Matar was arrested twice for participating in peaceful demonstrations against the Syrian regime. While in prison, he watched film footage on his fellow inmates’ mobile phones: demonstrations, attacks and people who had filmed themselves in the middle of unrest. He couldn’t forget what he saw.

Since the start of the peaceful revolution in Syria, footage shot on smartphones (‘mobile films’) has become the most important documentary medium in the entire Arabic world, as well as an expression of free speech in the fight against dictatorship. Matar recognised the potential of this film material and wanted to create a platform for it, so he founded the Syrian Mobile Films Festival, which was held on 8–9 April 2016 at BOX.Freiraum ( in Berlin. The 29-year-old says: “It’s important for me to show people here in Berlin what life is like for Syrians, their daily struggle and the death that is an everyday occurrence, as this is the reason why so many are fleeing to Germany.”

The films show the war but also things you don’t see on the news: a boy who lost a hand and two fingers when a cluster bomb exploded and who can no longer wipe away his tears (Clusterd, R.: Hasan Kattan); another boy who made paper models of his hometown Aleppo – firstly in its destroyed state and then as the resplendent city he hopes will emerge from the rubble (The Architect, R.: Mujahid Abu Aljoud); or there’s Murat, who stopped his construction engineering degree at the start of the war and became a farmer on the Syrian-Turkish border without realising his dreams (One precious thing, R.: Ayaz Ismail).

The first Syrian Mobile Films Festival 2014 took place in Syria itself. The event brings professional and amateur filmmakers together and supports the production of creative, low-budget mobile films. It also awards funding, prizes and special training sessions. Eleven short films (in Arabic with English subtitles) were shown on the two evenings at BOX.Freiraum. Entry was free. After the films had been shown, the audiences had an opportunity to talk to some filmmakers about Syrian cinema and the role of smartphones in Syria today.

The festival’s record is already impressive – 2 years, 10 cities, 42 trainees and 35 screenings. This year, Berlin was the first international venue with subsequent screenings in Turkey, the USA and Greece. It is hoped these numbers will continue to increase and that many more people will get the chance to see these impressive films.

The Syrian Mobile Films Festival on Facebook

Text: Theresa Schmidt

Translation: Nickolas Woods