French filmmaker Bruno Pieretti’s short “Kachach, above Zaatari” provides a unique perspective from within the Syrian refugee camp at Zaatari. This beautiful film will screen at London Lift-Off Film Festival on Wednesday 6th November at 7:45pm at Arthouse Crouch End as part of Shorts Programme 2. We interviewed Pieretti to hear a little more about how this film came to be, and his path as a filmmaker.
Interview by Sneh Rupra
Can you tell us about what inspired the making of this documentary?
I had gone for the first time as a freelance journalist to the Zaatari refugee camp to write a paper on prostitution. While I was there, I felt that something was wrong with our general idea of who refugees are. It took me a while, but I realized that we think the most terrible things in the refugees’ lives are the losses and the fifteen first days of fear and emergency. That’s what defined our idea of who they are and what they need: they’re people who lost everything in a terrible moment of their lives and need food and shelter. But what I felt there is that the fifteen years after that might be even worse, because they are trapped in the camps and unable to rebuild. Not really lacking anything, but forced to wait. How can you forget, then? Forgive? Have a purpose?
That’s why they’re so eager to get home and almost compulsively hanging to this idea: there’s simply nothing else think about! And so they live in the expectation of an end to an endless war. Their only hope is unrealistic, and that’s terrible. That’s how it started. The parallel about the birds came later on.
What is it about short film as a medium that drew you for this project?
Timing wasn’t exactly the issue. I thought 52 or even 26 minutes would have been too long. It’s a simple film. So Antoine Bernardeau [the Editor] and I edited the material we had and realized that 13-14 minutes was the best length. Antoine has a very precise sense of rhythm, which I needed a lot to edit a film about boredom without boring my audience.
This documentary presents a view of refugee camps that we are not often shown – why is this so important?
I don’t know if it is important because I don’t really know what we could do about it: the neighboring countries are too economically fragile and can’t afford to let the refugees out. 1.5 million new workers is a mass they can’t absorb. It’s important that we know it simply because those peoples’ lives are being smashed along the way. But I have no answer, really.
Were there any unexpected challenges you faced during production?
Dealing with local authorities is always a challenge in those countries – it’s an art of trust and opportunity that our interpreter, Ihab Muhtaseb, masters perfectly.
The problem was the authorities would only let us film during the hot hours, from 10am to 3pm – when the sun is unbearable, and damages the results on camera. But I was lucky to have an excellent young DoP – Xavier Thesnon-Hily – and he managed to get the best out of it. Now the image is amazing and you just feel the strength of that heat – which is exactly what we needed.
Otherwise, it was physically challenging: the temperature was about 48°C/120°F and since it was Ramadan, we wouldn’t drink while being among them.
The score is such a vibrant part of this film – how did you go about getting the perfect sound?
I wanted Middle-Eastern music. Something arabic, not any Western music. It’s actually two very different musicians from Ud who composed the music. One – Murad Issa – was a refugee in the camp, and he actually improvised the music part that now covers the title. Khyam Allami, the other, is a great Iraqi-British composer who was born and grew up in Syria. His album “Resonance/dissonance” had the advantage of playing with paradoxes. It worked perfectly.
How do you think this film will impact the conversation surrounding Syrian refugees in France, Jordan, and around the world?
I think it’d be presumptuous of me to think it will. Potentially, it could help break a few stereotypes about Syrians in Jordan. In the western world, I wish it it could bring the debate back to being news, now that most media have grown bored of it. Our line producer, Amina Haddad, would be the best to answer. She got really involved in getting this film seen and having its voice heard. She’d be the one who knows best the impact it had.
How has the experience of making this film changed your perception of the Middle East and North Africa?
I can’t really say it did, because it wasn’t my first trip there. I loved going there to talk about birds and life and taking the time to have very long conversations with people, instead of simply coming to extract information and leave. It feels a lot more rewarding for everyone.
Are there any new projects on the horizon that you can tell us about?
I’m thinking about a few possibilities. With the Tuaregs in North Africa or maybe with ISIS prisoners in Iraq. And I’d like to write a fictional piece too, for a change. We’ll see how it turns out.
Are you looking forward to screening Kachach, above Zaatari in London?
Can’t wait! I heard that a movie whose directors I know from another festival in the US are being selected there too, which is great! I’m in Canada right now, so I hope I’ll be able to make it there and see everyone.
Thank you for your time and this interview.
Tickets are now on sale for London Lift-Off, where “Pure Madness” will be screening.