“Ossama Mohammed was an acclaimed Syrian filmmaker in his late fifties when he traveled to Cannes in 2011 to bear witness to the civil war freshly unfolding in his country,” writes Nicholas Elliott in BOMB. “While in France, he was informed that it would be dangerous for him to go home. He went into exile in Paris but continued trying to document events in Syria, turning to the Internet to cull images and find someone to replace him on the ground. He eventually connected with Wiam Simav Bedirxan, a young Kurd whose name means silvered water in her native tongue. Bedirxan traveled 500 kilometers to smuggle a camera back to Homs. She asked Mohammed what to film. ‘Film everything,’ he told her. The first time we see her face, she is having a bullet extracted from her thigh…. If you see [Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait]—which you must—you will see images of naked boys being beaten by soldiers, of dead children and maimed animals and blood pouring into the street. You will also see—repeatedly—a pixilated image of a baby as it has its umbilical cord removed. Silvered Water is more than a documentary about atrocity. It is that rare film that tries to encompass the world, leaping from birth to death in the space of an edit.”
Mohammed and Bedirxan “create a poetic lamentation for their disintegrating country caught in a brutal civil war between warring factions entrenched in regime-, ISIS-, and opposition-controlled zones,” writes Pamela Cohn, also for BOMB. “Over 170,000 civilians and counting have been killed, and there continues to be a massive exodus of refugees. The war has destroyed their homeland, making the landscape of one of the most ancient civilizations on the planet unrecognizable…. Producer Orwa Nyrabia was Ossama Mohammed’s assistant while Nyrabia was still a student in Damascus. He and his business partner and wife, Diana El Jeroudi, are filmmakers as well. They’ve made their mark on the international stage as producers and run their own company called ProAction Film. They started a documentary festival in Damascus in 2008, the first ever in the country. The last edition was in 2011, ending just a few days before the revolution and subsequent massacre began…. Orwa and I have been friends for quite a few years,” and before she talks with him about Silvered Water, they chat a bit about Ricky Leacock and Godard.
Notebook editor Daniel Kasman insists that Silvered Water is one of “the most essential films at the New York Film Festival,” and it screens just once, this evening at 6:15. Mohammed’s first half or so is “a YouTube palimpsest, a meta mise en scène imagining, creating a whole, distant, deeply suffering world through dispersed fragments…. But the assumed grab bag nature of Silvered Water’s selection is quickly contradicted, and the assembly, held tentatively by ruminating voice-over and more directly with sorrowful music, makes each Syrian moving image a moving image, one capable of moving again.” This “powerful found footage essay is gradually woven into new footage shot on the ground during the siege of Homs by co-director Wiam Simav Bedirxan.” And “when placed next to or within the work of the other, the film forms a kind of larger scale correspondence between the two, of exile and besieged, man and woman, Syrian and Kurd.”
“A cri de coeur that implores the West to ponder the consequences of a conflict for which there are no facile panaceas, Silvered Water invites us to immerse ourselves in the unimaginable while making us equally cognizant of our political impotence,” writes Richard Porton in Cinema Scope. In La Furia Umana, Christine Dériaz finds that Silvered Water is “like an epilogue to a country with a faint glimmer of hope floating underneath the pictures.” More from Glenn Dunks (Film Experience), Jay Weissberg (Variety) and Deborah Young (Hollywood Reporter).