Syrian drama industry battles on despite war

TV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt

Beirut

Bab al-Hara, the smash hit Syrian soap opera, has returned to Arab television screens after a hiatus of three years during which civil war been ravaging the country.

The series focuses on life in old Damascus during the French mandate, and it is being shown not only in Syria, but also Lebanon, Egypt and other countries. In its heyday, the show had 50 million viewers. Yet its return, plagued by changes in set, producer and director, reveals how the Syrian film industry has suffered over the past few years. This year, the number of Syrian-produced soap operas plummeted to 20, almost half the number produced in 2010.

The civil war has divided the industry. In 2011, 300 actors signed the Milk Petition, requesting milk for the children of Dara'a, the birthplace of the uprising. In response, 20 production houses vowed never to work with them again. Those opposed to the regime moved away. Gulf channels used to be the primary buyers of Syrian drama before the revolution, but retreated after governments cut ties with Damascus. This led to the departure of hundreds of unemployed actors, producers and writers. As a result, dramas across the Arab world are being buoyed by Syrians.

Syrian dramas are now being filmed in Cairo and Abu Dhabi Syrian dramas are now being filmed in Cairo and Abu Dhabi Meanwhile, the Syrian soap opera industry continues to survive, albeit on a smaller scale. Sets have been destroyed, forcing productions to rely on alternative locations. Lebanese-Syrian co-productions have increased. Such co-operation has allowed Syrians to reflect on their situation without interference from the state. Rafi Wahbi, a Syrian writer now based in Lebanon, says the move allowed him to create his latest series, The Sweetness of the Soul. It tells the story of a journalist from Lebanon who is kidnapped by jihadists in Syria. The regime, opposition and even jihadists are humanised and criticised. The series is not broadcast in Syria, and this has allowed Wahbi creative freedom. He said: "For my career, no doubt it has evolved in the past two years, largely due to being able to enjoy greater freedom to write away from the censorship."

Despite series produced in Syria being subject to government censorship, they have long been a vehicle for airing criticism in the country. Now the medium is trying to find a way of dealing with the upheaval. In the past few years, a number of dramas have addressed political turmoil, as well as the effects of being a refugee. Many were produced from the safety of Lebanon. But in Syria, too, such issues are addressed. One of the dramas this year centres on the decision faced by many Syrians whether they should stay or leave.

Many shows are now filmed in Cairo Many shows are now filmed in Cairo "I don't call them soap operas," says Rebecca Joubin, a professor in Arab studies at Davidson College in North Carolina, "especially now, there is historical interpretation." She points to Sacrifice, a new series which is highly critical of the government. "Last year they were talking about the deceit of the uprising, but they weren't willing to talk about political opposition."

But as the government regains its grip on power, Syrian soap operas have largely followed suit. Historical dramas are still popular, but are now infused with the official line.

And viewers have noticed. Bab al-Hara had been a mainly political drama. "The show tries to send a message," said Ghadi Hallak, 32, a Lebanese fan of the show. "Before it was about opposition. Now it's only about Syrian unity."

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine