'The Day I Lost My Shadow' by Soudade Kaadan won the Lion of the Future – “Luigi De Laurentiis” Venice Award for a Debut Film Jury at the 75th Venice Film Festival. It's a win to be celebrated for all women filmmakers, of course, but also for Syrian filmmakers who, since the start of the war in 2011 have all but disappeared. Scattered around foreign lands, their voices and visions have become the true casualties of this conflict.
In her film, which world premiered at the festival in the Orizzonti section, Kaadan uses the metaphor of personal shadows as a way to show how the war strips people of their humanity and hope. When Sana, played by the naturally beautiful Sawsan Arsheed, goes out looking for a gas canister so she can cook for her son, she is pulled into a three day nightmare that eventually ends the way everything ends in Syria... I'll leave that to your imagination and perhaps your first viewing of the film.
The film is really a joint effort between sisters, Soudade and Amira Kaadan, a pair who uses their own shortcuts to communicate together. Born in France, brought up in Damascus and now living in Lebanon, the sisters have the perfect chemistry between a director and her producer that's needed for a film as difficult as 'The Day I Lost My Shadow." When he introduced the award, the presenter added, "there is a US $100,000 cash prize to be divided equally between the producer and the director so they won't fight about it." I thought, no way these ladies are fighting about something as fickle as money. There is great Syrian survival blood running in their veins!
The prize means the world for a film that was supported, back in the days when the Gulf organizations worked together to make great cinema, by the Doha Film Institute and the SANAD fund in Abu Dhabi. It also encourages filmmakers to try something new, which of course the Kaadan sisters did, with a film that makes us look at the shadows within a shot, and not just accept what we see, but also investigate what is missing. A great metaphor for life, I might add.
Following is a short interview with the film's director and writer Soudade Kaadan. We chatted before she went on to win her big award!
What was your involvement in Syria?
Soudade Kaadan: I was born in France and lived there for eight years and then I came back and have lived all my life in Syria. Syrian passport, Syrian nationality… My sister also. In Damascus. We left Syria in 2012 together. We started this film in 2011 and even started to get financing while in Syria -- SANAD and Doha Film Institute came on board then. Then we left for Lebanon and started out company there, the same company but based in Lebanon, now out of Syria.
Did you experience any of the war?
Kaadan: I lived there from 2011 to 2012 and what I saw is nothing compared to what is happening now. What I saw was neighborhoods on fire, friends disappearing, bombing but whatever I saw is the lightest version of it. In my film I don’t pretend to say that I saw what it’s like, but I only show three days in the life of Sana -- nothing after 2012. It’s the point of view of a woman who lived the war, so you see how women experience the war. It’s a war that is always present but you don’t see it, rather you experience the effect it has on the people.
What has been the backlash of being a filmmaker in Syria?
Kaadan: Now I can’t come back to my country, my name is at the borders, I’m blacklisted.
What does the shadow represent? To me, it felt like our humanity…
Kaadan: I never explain what the shadow losing means in the film. But the absence of everything, and everything you believe, and it becomes empty around you and that’s what the shadow is about. I remember the first time I saw images of Hiroshima, the first time I saw those shadows on the ground and it struck me. I felt it had some relation with what was happening in Damascus…
What were the challenges of making a film about shadows?
Kaadan: One of the biggest one was I wanted to make the film during winter and in winter there is no light, so there are no shadows. It was a long process of experimenting, during shooting, during editing and in VFX, with sound to make this film happen like this. But that is what we felt like in Syria, so Amira and I didn’t care about production logic, we put everything we had and our time and souls into this film but we gained a lot by making this film.
The first time we made a perfect shoot and put together the film and when the shadows disappeared, no one noticed. And we discovered that people are not able to follow shadows as spectators so we had to rework it and rework it and tested it. We also found out that if the actor reacted to the shadow going away after the event, no one noticed. So we had to do the reaction of the actor first and then do the shadow losing so people will notice it.
I wanted it to be subtle but also wanted it to be dramatic.
You show the despair of war so well, through your lead actress.
Kaadan: It’s not only about despair but loss of hope. And the fear that they will come and take you away at any moment. This fear somehow, sometimes people say is even worst than actually being hurt.
Yours is one of the few films that shows the anticipation of something to come. Which is most critical for Syrian artists. We don’t understand that, we think maybe you’re in Damascus and there is no conflict there and why would you feel unsafe. But you always know they will come and get you. You just don’t know when…
Kaadan: You never know when you will be next. And this fear of the next for me is the most destructive.
Where was the film shot?
Kaadan: On the border between Syria and Lebanon so we could have the same light and we wanted to recreate Syria. As a Syrian I wanted not only to make a film that touched international audiences but one that reached Syrians, so they could feel their story is being told. There is this trend now to show Syria to the outside, at festivals and for me it was important my local audiences would feel it’s their film.
Do you think cinema can change the world?
Kaadan: I know how art can heal. I can’t change what is happening in Syria but at least with the film’s experience we might help.