29 Sep The Wait
Documentary maker Susie Attwood’s latest project, The Wait, is an observational documentary about a group of Syrian Christians who have escaped the war in their homeland to take refuge in a Syriac Orthodox Monastery just outside Beirut.
The Wait follows the lives of four families, all facing interminable stays – some longer than a year – without jobs or education for their children as they wait for visas to pursue a better life in the West.
The film is based around the orthodox Easter – and explores the poignancy of waiting spiritually as well as physically.
Susie self-funded/crowdfunded the production stage and spent a month in Lebanon shooting the documentary earlier this year. She is now looking for funding and screening /distribution and is in conversation with Lambeth Palace about a screening there.
The MediaNet’s Holly Poulter caught up with Susie to ask about her work.
What is the background to the film’s content-matter?
“There are currently 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, a country of about six million people. Syrian Christians comprise a minority of this population. At times like these, when ethnic and religious groups are being increasingly divided across the world, it is crucial we hear from those are trapped outside of their control and celebrate the cultural and religious diversity of the Middle east.”
What was your motivation to make this film?
“The Syrian War has devastated a country and left millions without a home. Last year, I visited a Syriac Orthodox Church in a town called Zahle in Lebanon and met a Syrian woman with six children, whose husband had made the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean two years ago to claim asylum in Germany.
“She was left waiting to be reunited – but it had been two years and there was still no news from the German Embassy. I was struck by the idea that she had been left behind, and that as a Christian she was reliant on the local church in Lebanon to look after her.
“I found out that more than a million more Syrians find themselves in the same position in Lebanon, waiting for a better life in the West and decided to make a documentary exposing their hardships. I wanted to explore what it means to wait for what they hope will be a better life and how as a minority community of Orthodox Christians, they support each other in a very troubled situation.”
You spend a month in Lebanon filming four families. What was that experience like?
“It was a wonderful time, although very intense! I filmed the documentary myself and had a very small team of local Lebanese assisting me with translation and logistics.
“Nearly every day was spent in this Syriac Orthodox Monastery just outside Beirut and so I really got to know and love the families I spent time with. What was most encouraging and life-affirming was that despite their struggles, they were full of hope.
“In the monotony of the day, I discovered their hearts’ passions – from a child called Aboud whose life in the monastery was centred around teaching himself the violin by listening to Paganini on YouTube, to a Father who crafts the most beautiful Arabic poetry and a young woman who loves doing everyone’s hair for Church.
“Everyone has their own way of dealing with living in this in-between existence where their loved ones and country have been taken away from them.”
How did you feel the first time you heard Aboud play the violin?
“Aboud is a wonderful 14-year-old boy from Aleppo who has been living in the monastery for nearly a year and whose passion in life is to play the violin. I am also a violin player – so I lit up when I first heard him approaching from down the corridor of the monastery on my first day.
“He was playing a very rattley cheap factory violin which was too small for him, but I could tell immediately that he was musical and could see from his smile that he loved playing. I ended up featuring him and his family as one of the main families in my film, and when I came back to the UK arranged for a violin from Oxford University to be loaned to him in Lebanon, which he absolutely loves!
“His dream is to become a famous musician and I hope and pray that I will see him perform on a big stage one day.”
Why do you think this documentary is important, what do you want viewers to be able to take away from your film after watching it?
“I hope that my film humanises the refugee crisis, which can often feel overwhelming for us in the West who are confronted by figures and harrowing pictures. I want to celebrate the aspirations and remarkable resilience of many Syrians who are being refined by hardship in the most life-affirming way.
“On a humanitarian level, I am keen to expose the difficulties the Syrian Christian community face. They often feel marginalised and persecuted in UNHCR refugee camps and look to Churches for help.
“The refugees in the film are all applying for asylum in Europe, North America, and Australia, and feel increasingly demoralised when countries such as the UK are not taking a significant number of refugees. I would love to mobilise support from society in the UK as well as the Church to encourage politicians to push support for refugees to the top of the political agenda.
“I think that the UK should be at the forefront of efforts to provide long-term solutions for Syrians who remain in the region in the hope of rebuilding the nation after the devastation of war.”
What is next for The Wait?
“I have shot everything and am currently getting my footage translated in order to edit in November 2017, so I can release the documentary early next year. As an independent production, I am looking for financial support to fund the edit and post-production.
“You can find out more details on my website, which can also be used if you’d like to know more about the current situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, or support the film in any way.”
If you would like to find out more about the film or the issues surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon, please feel free to contact Susie at firstname.lastname@example.org