In 1970, a young Syrian filmmaker, filled with revolutionary fervor, made a beautiful film-poem to celebrate the great strides his nation was making toward modernization. The fifteen-minute black-and-white film that opens this program (Film Essay on the Euphrates Valley) shows men and machines, captured by the eye of a brilliant film artist, wholeheartedly dedicated to accomplishing a heroic task. Thirty-five years later, the same filmmaker, Omar Amiralay, returns to the site of his first film, this time to atone for this "error of youth". The dam whose construction he depicted has collapsed. A government report indicates that all the dams constructed by the Baath party after it came to power, will meet a similar fate. (The Baath party in Syria was a branch of Saddam Hussein's in Iraq.) In the village of Al-Machi, Amiralay looks unblinkingly at what has become of the dream of Arab socialism. Far from creating a work of flat political denunciation, he has gone beyond simply expressing his own disillusionment and captured, no less chillingly because he has done it elliptically, a glimpse of an educational system so regimented it seems beyond belief. A rare contemporary example of filmmaking combining formal mastery with political courage.
Born in Damascus, Syria in 1944, Omar Amiralay received a diploma in theater studies from the Théâtre des Nations in Paris. Since 1981, he's directed many documentary films for several French television channels. Amiralay's feature and short films include The Man with the Golden Soles (2002, a portrait of recently assassinated Lebanese prime minister Rafik Harir), There Are Still a Lot of Things to Talk About, Le plat de sardines, Par un jour de violence ordinaire, Mon ami Michel Seurat..., Moudarres, Le dernier des pionniers, To the Attention of Madame Prime Ministre Benazir Bhutto, The Lady of Schibam, L'ennemi intime, Vidéo sur sable, Le sarcophage de l'amour, Senteurs du Paradis, The Misfortune of One, and About a Revolution.