Told through the eyes of Syrian refugee children and the people charged with their care, documentary maker Karim Shah throws a sensitive and deeply moving light on a community living endlessly within site of their beloved Syria in this Al Jazeera film being aired repeatedly this week on its flagship platform, Witness.
Syria: No Strings begins as many documentaries must in revealing the hardships of those who have lost their homes, loved ones, their country, but then draws us into the vision and efforts of refugees to support their own community. In this way it shares more than sadnesses and uplifts us, too.
How big their challenge is is not underestimated, however: we meet Farid, aged five, whose father was shot on his way to the shop to buy him sweets. Farid was holding his hand at the time. A little girl proudly takes us round the several rooms of her Turkish refugee camp home, while a young boy laments in impressive English how, through the burden of sheer numbers, he is not so lucky and must live like many in informal settlements beyond the official camp, unable to attend school and an outsider all over again.
These are children whose wise little statements point to unimaginable hurts, and as the films shows, the adults who understand them most, of course, are those who share their history.
In October last year, No Strings spent seven days working with these adults in an intensive workshop that was a pleasure and an honour to deliver. In it, we explored the two films at the core of our programme in this part of the world, one looking at the emotional impact of conflict (Out of the Shadows), the other peace issues, or as the little girl in the film puts it, how to help Syrian children be friends (Red Top, Blue Top). We introduced them to a range of different puppetry ideas to encourage children to explore their own thoughts and feelings around the films’ key messages, tools they’ve been using ever since.
We were joined by Karim Shah throughout that time, and followed his progress as he returned to the region several times to further understand and document people’s stories. Syria: No Strings doesn’t pretend that two films and some puppets will make everything go away for these children. Too much has happened for that. But it does show how a few imaginative ideas, coupled with the love and determination of a local community, can bring about hope, however that can be measured.
Al Jazeera is showing the documentary at the following times (UK time):
Sunday 17th August, 23.30
Monday 18th August, 10.30
Tuesday 19th August, 04.40
Wednesday 20th August, 17.30