Phones and their cameras have played a huge part in broadcasting conflict worldwide and, despite risk of torture and death, users continue to capture everything
While we might be used to hearing about the radical power of our selfies, we don’t usually hear how mobile phone cameras can break down a dictatorship. But, according to Amro Khito, one of the founders of the Syria Mobile Festival, the mobile phone camera “managed to crack 40 years of dictatorship in Syria”.
Says Khito: “While we are watching videos from around the world, from Macedonian borders and what is going on with refugees there to seeing how American police are acting with their citizens, we are becoming even more convinced that the ‘mobile camera’ is changing the concept of what we see and who is showed it.”
Journalist and documentary filmmaker Amer Matar, the festival’s co-founder, got the idea for the project from a group of Syrian filmmakers he was inspired by. Despite being arrested for his work against Assad’s regime in 2011, he did not want to be silenced. Realising just how much of the dissident and rebel footage was being shot on mobiles, he teamed up with Khito to create the festival, which launched in 2014 and works to help fund stories from Syria shot on mobile phones.
We spoke to Khito to get the full story behind the festival.
What is the idea behind the festival?
Amro Khito: The idea of doing this festival is to create a space for those who have been using their mobile cameras since the beginning of uprising in Syria to defend their rights as humans.
While it seems pretty absurd to ask this question when people are risking their lives for footage, do you ever worry that the quality of the footage is detracting from the stories?
Amro Khito: At the moment, we are convinced that it does not matter any more if you are producing a high-quality image or low quality. For us, it just matters that the image can be shown of Syria for the rest of the public and manage to cross the traditional guards of the media gate.
Can you tell us a bit more about this year’s festival?
Amro Khito: At the moment, we have 33 mobile films that will be screened this year. Sixteen of those films are from around the world, six are films that were created through grants, and another 11 were developed in a pixel training workshop which was held in Gaziantep in Turkey. Our festival also offers grants, awards and training programs for Syrian directors who make low-budget, mobile documentary films.
Did you both have to leave because of your work?
Amro Khito: Well, most of the Syrians who are against Assad have had to leave Syria, especially those who were working as journalists and photographers. It was made worse because we were documenting the violence carried out by Assad’s regime at the start of the revolution. Now, we still try and work with lots of Syrian journalists, filmmakers and artists, and support them through our project.
So, you have continued to run workshops in Turkey, Syria and now Berlin. What plans do you have for the future?
Amro Khito: Five years ago, we started to meet more citizen journalists and amateur filmmakers trying to do independent films and documentaries about the situation in our homeland. At the heart of the festival, that is what inspires us. But now we have more people interested… So, we are looking to do more experimental work with these people next year, and (we may) even come to London for a screening if there is an interested space!