In Damascus: Film by Waref Abu Quba

In Damascus is a four-minute short that merely shows a slice of life in the city. It captures people walking, façades of old buildings, iron doors, shadows of trees, clouds kissing steeples, city lights and calligraphy carved into walls. Filmmaker Waref Abu Quba’s style captures the aesthetics of nostalgia itself due to the way in which images filter and flit across the screen – languorous, soft, full of flux and a kind of bittersweet joy. It is a particularly touching reminder of a city that, due to the ongoing war, has become lost to the world as a place of vibrant vitality, beauty, history and quite simply, humanity. This choreography of images is set to the sound of legendary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s poem, “The Damascene Collar of the Dove,” translated in full here. Intrigued by this lyrical short, I contacted the filmmaker with a few questions.

Bhakti Shringarpure: What inspired you to make the film?
Waref Abu Quba: I am from Al-Tall, a town in Damascus Suburb area. It’s only 14 km from Damascus. I’ve studied and lived in Damascus for a number of years. I’ve always wanted to make a film about it to show the world an absent side of this city.

BS: Tell us about your background as a filmmaker. 
WAQ: I got a bachelor’s degree in graphic art from the University of Damascus in 2007. I have a real passion for cinema and filmmaking, and I was mostly self-taught in this field. I’ve worked as a freelance filmmaker and motion graphic designer since graduation, and I’ve been part of a number of projects with major companies nationally and internationally.

BS: The film is visually very unique and has a hypnotic quality. What technical decisions did you make for creating this effect? And why?
WAQ: I wanted to make something of a dream sequence and did not want a documentary feel. I wanted to give that fantasy feeling you get while walking the streets of Damascus. I wanted to make it look as if we are looking through a witch’s ball, or through stained glass, which Damascus is famous for. This is why the images are not clear in every part of the film. I wanted the viewer to continue or to imagine those vague parts of the image.

At the time of shooting, I didn’t have any expensive tools to make any fancy camera movements – like a dolly, slide or crane – so I used a technique called 3D Projection which allows me to create some of those movements in the post-production process.

Bhakti Shringarpure is editor-in-chief of Warscapes magazine.