Under the Sky of Damascus

A group of young Syrian women meet in secret to debate embarking on a radical project that threatens to put them in danger.

Under the Sky of Damascus A tight-knit group of young Syrian women embark upon on a radical project: producing a play that lays bare the culture of misogyny and sexual abuse that has blighted the lives of females in their country for generations. Farah, Eliana, Inana, Souhir and Grace want to blow the whistle on women's oppression, though they know their production will make it even harder for them to get work. Collaborating with exiled Syrian filmmakers Heba Khaled (making her feature debut) and Talal Derki (the Oscar-nominated OF FATHERS AND SONS)—and Ali Wajeeh on the ground in Damascus—the women fan out through the war-weary city to gather individual stories that will form the basis of their play.

Under the Sky of Damascus (2023) on IMDb

LaurelThessaloniki Film Festival | Winner | Golden Alexander Prize
LaurelMillennium Docs Against Gravity Film Festival | Winner | Special Mention
LaurelBerlin International Film Festival | Panorama 2023
LaurelSheffield Doc Fest | Official Selection 2023
LaurelCPH:DOX | Official Selection 2023

The Producers

Heba Khaled — Co-Director & Writer

Heba Khaled was born in Damascus and studied Arabic Literature at Damascus University. She worked as freelance fixer for CNN, and Reuters in Damascus and Beirut between 2011 and 2013 and worked as a writer and executive producer on these and other Arab media channels.
In 2014, she started in her first short-film People of the Wasteland. The same year, she moved to Berlin where she assisted the filmmaker Talal Derki in the direction of his film Of Fathers and Sons, which won the Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Grand Jury Prize in 2018 and was Oscar-nominated for Best Documentary Feature in 2020.

Talal Derki — Co-Director

Talal Derki was born in Damascus (1977) and has been based in Berlin since 2013. He studied film directing in Athens.
Talal Derkis short films and feature length documentaries received many awards at various festivals. Both of his films Return to Homs and Of Fathers and Sons won the Grand Jury Award at Sundance Film Festival 2014 and 2018.

He was Oscar nominated for a Academy Award and winner of the German Film Awards (Lola) in 2019 for Of Fathers and Sons. He became member of the Academy same year.

Ali Wajeeh — Co-Director

Ali Wajeeh was born in Lattakia (1985) has been working as film critic for Arab newspapers and websites for many years. Wrote several Arab TV series, award-winning short movies, and plays.
With his extensive knowledge of Syrian and Arab film production, he has also been drama consultant for production companies and platforms.

Making The Film

Director’s Statement - Talal Derki and Heba Khaled

During the 11 years of war in Syria, we have told stories of men in positions of peril and power. After “Return to Homs” and “Of Fathers and Sons”, we found it imperative to shift the lens and tell a female-centered Syrian story. While Heba worked closely with Talal on previous films, “Under the Sky of Damascus” is her first as co-director, writer and producer. Her personal experience growing up in Syria, and the harassment she constantly faced, speaks directly to the issues of our film’s subjects and so it is her voice - the narrator of this project - that seeks to frame the story.

While the war and Assad’s regime have brought lasting trauma to nearly every facet of Syrian life, the women of our country have been the most brutalized. Our country has, for generations, been in the grip of widespread misogynistic exploitation. It is systemic and goes to the heart of the criminality inherent in Assad’s regime. The war has made this crisis unbearable, so we are seeing stories bubble up to the surface like never before.

We made our film in exile because the two of us are banned from entering Syria. Shooting there would likely be a death-sentence. As a result, we assembled a team of local Syrian crew members to be our eyes and ears. We discovered Farah, Inana, Eliana and the team of actresses and playwrights a few years back. They confided their plan to us to build a play and we have since been filming their interviews with women across the Syrian landscape.

Through first-person accounts, we have secured a vital collection of documentation surrounding abuse and harassment against women throughout Syria - both within the heavily populated areas of Damascus as well as on the outskirts, deep in the country - places few filmmakers even within our own country go to explore.

Never before have women spoken on camera so bluntly about their trauma - and we feel it has the power to change the conversation and spark new momentum for women’s rights in Syria. Considering the massive demonstrations in Iran and their government’s tyrannical response, we see in our film’s subjects a similar spirit of rebellion and hunger for change. The Iranian protests are currently the most visible sign of anger among women and their allies within the MENA region, but it is spilling over into countries such as Syria. “Under the Sky of Damascus” is a testament to this ongoing movement.

Our approach to the film is a two-fold testimonial; it is a document of women in various walks of life speaking candidly, and it is also the story of the women who interview them and seek to spread their words. This is about the creation of art and activism through testimonials that offer a cinematic window into the widespread issue of abuse and misogyny in Syria. Our film seeks to show how it affects everyone, even those involved within our own production. This process of shooting and processing with our close group of collaborators has brought their stories home in the most personal of ways.

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