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SUNDANCE 2023 World Cinema Documentary Competition

Lina • Director of 5 Seasons of Revolution

“The story is not complete if it’s only about one person”


- The debuting director takes on the Syrian revolution – and friendship – in her very personal documentary

Lina • Director of 5 Seasons of Revolution

The Syrian journalist-turned-filmmaker who now goes by the name of Lina gets personal in her feature debut, focusing on the struggles of her country, but also her friends. In 5 Seasons of Revolution [+see also:
film review
interview: Lina
film profile
, people fight, have their dreams shattered, give up and hope for the best. They live, but death is always looming. We caught up with the director to talk about her film, showing in the World Cinema Documentary Competition at Sundance.

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Cineuropa: Documentaries depicting war and conflicts can make one a bit jaded – as horrible as it sounds, you get used to these images. But you talk about the loss of innocence and friendship here, which hits home differently.
Lina: People accept war as a part of life. It comes up in the news, you feel bad, then you change the channel. It has been a while since Syria was in the spotlight, but I don’t worry about that too much, because this film is not about the latest headlines.

At the beginning, we were very optimistic. We thought it was going to last maybe one year. In the end, it took ten more to complete the film, so of course the story has changed completely. I realised the only stable element was friendship, with all its ups and downs. I’ve always wanted to have this multiplicity of characters and viewpoints. I feel that the story is not complete if it’s only about one person.

They are not on the same page all the time – they fight and change their mind about how to react. Seeing them lose that initial enthusiasm is, well, heartbreaking.
It’s very easy to be enthusiastic when you think it’s just people versus the regime – “us” versus “them”. But it was an uprising of the whole country, so it was bound to get more complicated. We started editing in 2012, so I was never far from the material, but thanks to all this time, I had a chance to look at things from all these different perspectives. I really hope it’s reflected in the film.

Including one that has to do with everyday life, which is almost funny at times. Like when you say, calmly: “They took Rima. I decided I had to feed her cats.”
At one point, I felt the voice-over was the sixth character in the film. It had a life of its own. My [gentle] voice became this stable companion, reassuring the audience. As a journalist, that’s my way of interviewing people as well. Also, these funny moments were absolutely essential – they saved our lives. Before the war, I had little appreciation for comedians and their contribution to society. But if it weren’t for our ability to crack jokes, I don’t think we would have made it.

Speaking of reassuring the viewers, did you ever feel pressured to end things on a more positive note?
That was one of the reasons why it took so long to finish the film. It took a while for me to accept this situation as the end of the story. I was watching my friends, seeing where they were heading – also to know how to wrap things up. We are not crying day and night any more, but I didn’t want to force a feel-good closing scene. I didn’t want to beat up the audience either. I wanted to show how it is, simply and honestly. It sounds like 50 years have passed, instead of 15, but this entire world is gone now. It feels like it happened a lifetime ago.

It feels as though you are also figuring things out in the film – as a journalist and as a director.
There were no blueprints for any of us or for any of these “tasks” I was trying to accomplish. Nobody tells you how to tell the story of what is happening in your country, especially when there are so many of them: what was happening in Damascus was one story, while Aleppo was quite another. Depending on whether you are a woman, a man, if you were detained – these were all very different experiences. I felt it was important to communicate that.

So many documentaries are made by people who go somewhere for a while and then share their perspective. It’s normal, I guess, but would you agree it’s just different when you are there all the time?
I have a problem with that, too, even when it comes to TV reporting. All these “world experts” fly somewhere for two weeks and then sum it all up in three minutes. Why do we buy it? They can bring in a fresh perspective, sure, or make some connections that we tend to overlook, but I am not okay with the idea they can tell a better story. There is this myth that an outsider is more objective. They don’t have to take sides, people say. But everyone takes sides at the end of the day. Also, how much can they really understand?

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