With gentle, small movements, Diana El Jeiroudi draws a line across the lash line. She looks herself in the eye. The camera, aimed at the mirror, is filming. Make-up is El Jeiroudi’s battle outfit – a sign that lets those around her, but especially herself, understand: I’m ready. The eyeliner is a recurring motif in her documentary “Republic of Silence” – just like the ticking of the clock, the view from the window of the TV tower in Berlin, the corpses of dead, murdered people in Syria.
El Jeiroudi worked for more than ten years on the three-hour film essay about her home country, which resulted in a personal memoir. From the perspective of her surroundings, she tells how war, dictatorship and repression are reflected in private life – and looks back on her own past: She remembers the first camera that her father gave her as a seven-year-old; documents the arrest of her partner, the independent filmmaker Orwa Nyrabia, with whom she now lives in exile in Berlin.
Republic of Silence is El Jeiroudi’s most personal work to date. Looking in the mirror, getting ready, therefore also stands for a self-critical look at one’s own work. It is precisely this visual language, the subtle, intimate details, that characterize your film and give it its effect. “I’m tired of boasting and loud voices. I’m tired of it,” El Jeiroudi says in the video conversation.
The director, born in 1977, grew up in Syria and studied in Damascus. Still, she doesn’t want to be called a Syrian filmmaker – “not to be reduced to a passport,” as she says. El Jeiroudi discovered film for herself at the age of 25 and has since established herself as an internationally recognized director and screenwriter. Today she is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. Last year, Republic of Silence premiered at the Venice Film Festival.
Filming began before the Arab Spring
It took more than a decade to get there, and the direction of the film changed in the middle of the making process: When El Jeiroudi started shooting in 2010, she was accompanying her best friend Rami Abou Jamra on his research trip to Syria. The young doctor researched hereditary diseases and visited affected families.
The recordings were made before the beginning of the Arab Spring. El Jeiroudi shows them right at the beginning, in the first of a total of four chapters. So the focus of your film is not immediately apparent – although the opening sequence already provides a clue: “This film begins without a picture. There is no picture for what I saw,” it reads in white letters on a black background. Again and again, written and moving images alternate; Photographs from El Jeiroudis school days and television recordings serve to classify personal and political events.
With the beginning of the war in Syria, the filmmaker increasingly took leave of her original idea. So she locked herself in her study, thinking, writing, redesigning. Everything that happened around her influenced her work: the disasters in her home country, the suffering of the people, the politicians who placed their slogans in the media. “I kept getting angry. And that anger building up inside me was probably the strongest emotion that made me want to do the film,” she says.
A film like a mosaic
You can feel that as a viewer. Although their anger is not expressed loudly and explosively, but quietly and at times unbearably slowly. As a woman, she pays much more attention to the details and emotions that lie dormant beneath the surface, says El Jeiroudi. She perceives the world differently than her male colleagues.
She only gradually realized that this wasn’t just for personal reasons. “Most of the films I saw when I was young were made by men,” says El Jeiroudi. As a feminist, however, it is important to her to think about the inequalities in the film industry – structurally and artistically. So it was important to her to work with a woman, Katja Dringenberg, when editing.
(In the Berlin cinemas Delphi, Filmtheater Friedrichshain, Passage)
They worked together on editing the film over a period of a year. The result is like a mosaic – the central motif: silence. “I take it as a warning,” says the director. Wherever people remain silent or are silenced, it is important to stop and question. “Silence can mean many things: protest, but also oppression.”
This is also the case in “Republic of Silence”. Sometimes swings, sometimes tilts the mood between the two opposite poles. Sometimes silence can mean both. “The audience should decide for themselves how to interpret the individual scenes,” says El Jeiroudi. “Republic of Silence” is not a film that gives answers. Rather, it is an invitation, a kind of letter. And whoever listens into the silence has a chance to understand what El Jeiroudi is whispering in it. Quiet, subtle.