• Interviews

Syrian Filmmaker Soudade Kaadan Welcomes Unity of her Country After Earthquake

A month after the 7.8 earthquake in Syria and Turkey, we talked to Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan, whose filmography is dedicated to exploring her country devastated by an over a decade-long war. She is now facing a pivotal time in the aftermath of the February 6, 2023 earthquakes.

A participant of the HFPA Residency Program in Los Angeles, Kaadan captivated the audience with her feature film The Day I Lost My Shadow (2018), which won the Opera Prima Award at the Venice Film Festival.

In the film, Kaadan combined a war situation with magical realism. Her short film Aziza (2019), honored at the Sundance Film Festival, was celebrated for the use of the daily life of a couple who use their imagination to place themselves in a situation outside the war.

Kaadan, 44, who is a French national as well as Syrian, wrote and directed Nezouh (2022), the story of a family whose 14-year-old daughter Zeina (Hala Zein) seeks, with her imagination, to create a place of shelter from the war and patriarchal ruler (Samer al Masri), inspiring her mother (Kinda Alloush) to rebel. She feels the fascination of being attracted to her neighbor (Nizar Alani).


Coinciding with Women’s History Month, the HFPA had the opportunity to interview Kaadan via Zoom from her home in London.

The political situation in Syria already divided the country before the earthquake, which to date has registered 14,500 missing persons and 6,795 deaths. How do you feel about the situation in your country?

The only positive thing that I can salvage from all this tragedy is that for the first time, everyone in Syria wants to help, no matter what group they belong to. After the tremor, they spontaneously began to help each other. This would have been impossible ten years ago but now, a natural tragedy has made people forget their political affiliations to go out and help others.

Of course, not everything is rosy amid the conflicts and the challenges of reconstruction. The geography of Syria made it difficult at the beginning of the rescue efforts for assistance from outside to arrive, especially in the most affected cities. The residents soon realized that they had no choice but to help each other. It was almost impossible to get help from someone else.

I can say that “let’s help each other” is something new among the people of Syria and it is what became like a light for me. You discover that there is a will towards something good to resurface after this disastrous situation. For example, in the areas divided by the Kurds, they began to talk to each other and together, they tried to overcome their fear.

I must also say that there was uneven assistance between Syria and Turkey. I suppose because of the embargoes and the fear of stepping on territories in civil war, complications arise at a time when people urgently needed to be rescued. Things as elementary as knowing that electrical rescue equipment could not be used in Syria due to the lack of electricity leave you shuddering with indignation.

The film Nezouh was filmed in Gaziantep, Turkey, substituting for Damascus since, because of the war, it was not possible to film in Syria. Unfortunately, that Turkish town was one of the most damaged by the earthquakes. What do you know about that place today?

The city was already overcrowded. Gaziantep is close to the Syrian border. During the first years of the war in my country, it received many refugees. Unfortunately, as the population began to overflow, outbreaks of racism began to occur.

You have to think that many families in Gaziantep opened the doors of their homes to the refugees, even though they don’t share the same language. They all used the same kitchen, the same bathrooms, the streets and the places of recreation. Things were beginning to change with the opening of new camps beyond the city.

I remember when we were filming Nezouh, I realized the building didn’t feel very safe. Since I am a female director – and I couldn’t demand anything from the authorities – I spoke to the location producer and said, “I don’t think we should shoot here on the roof. It doesn’t feel safe.”

They brought three engineers to check the building. We ended up filming on the roof of another building.


Walking those streets, you were told by people that such a building could collapse. But there was no one to report it to or any government institution or individual to ask for money. Much less could you advise someone to leave the place where they lived and move elsewhere. This is the type of daily conditions that exist in these types of countries.

I have Gaziantep in my heart. They allowed us to film in a tunnel that passed under their magnificent castle. Now, I found out that part of this monument was damaged.

What has been the reaction of the Syrian artist community?

It is too soon for them to begin to express in an artistic way their feelings about what happened. The streets of Syria have been filled with press photographers who are documenting what happened.

But most of the efforts of the artistic community are focused on seeking help for the survivors or the reconstruction, especially since the aid is coming very slowly to Syria. There are also benefit concerts in different parts of the world.

There were those who joked, asking why it is very fast to bring weapons into the country but not aid the most places in need. It will take some time for us to begin to see artistic manifestations that reflect this tragedy.

I see people sharing clips from my movie Nezouh in which the girl protagonist discovers her room was bombed. We are now experiencing similar situations in Syria and Turkey after the tremors.

Entire towns were destroyed by the earthquakes. I can’t even imagine how this is going to affect more than one generation. Also, as for historical legacy, ancient monuments and buildings were lost. These are things that will also take time to be absorbed.

Amid the ceasefire that took place in various regions of Syria to facilitate the rescue efforts, do you see a future for your country that began its civil war on March 15, 2011?

After 12 years of war, economic crisis, and everything else, in Syria, they were literally rescuing people by using their bare hands to remove rubble from buildings. They were all driven by despair.

Maybe this is what made people come together to help each other. People realized that there was something positive and good between them that they were not seeing before. Certainly, this survival experience can help in the future to try to get out of the civil war.

Being deprived of a roof, water, food, and electricity, people realized that they could help themselves simply with their strength, among themselves, if needed material food or medicine could not be brought in. This is positive and can shine a light at the end of the tunnel for Syria.

How will your personal experiences as a citizen and filmmaker affect the telling of these stories?

All of this has become a box of memories for me. For a filmmaker to lose her country is something very strange. Somehow, memories of your family and friends blend together, creating a personal fictional narrative. Images jumble and blur in this kind of family album.

That’s how I feel because I don’t have a lot of things. Every time I move, I do it with fewer and fewer things and end up with very little, knowing that if I had to move out of the country again, I could take them with me.

So, my only place to access my country is my memory box. But thinking about that memory box is beautiful because, with cinema, you can help so that those stories are not lost.

What I am doing is preparing different projects. I still maintain the dark humor that helps to deal with personal trauma related to your country, fears, obsessions, and what happens when you start all over again.

I have finally realized that I am not alone. I am not alone in this feeling that comes to me after losing so much for a long time and makes me think that it will inevitably lead to losing everything.

And I’m trying to understand what it means to exist as two identities. One inside Syria and one outside. The title of my film here is important. Nezouh in Syria means “displacement of the soul or people.”

I found those themes in the film Bardo (2022) by the Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñarritu because you can understand his character who emigrated from Mexico to the United States – that sense of loss of your homeland and having to leave it. It’s just that, for me, I can’t go back to my country to take care of it in these difficult times. It’s a luxury I don’t have.

You can also feel it in Roma (winner of the Golden Globe in 2018) by Alfonso Cuarón. Under that look of nostalgia towards our childhood and when we grew up, we entered into this complex definition of identity and nationality. You have to understand that you come from a place but that you must stay to live in another place.

When I see these stories in a country other than mine, it brings me back to the idea of what it means for a human being to help another human being. For me, this is the most powerful story.

You mentioned two Mexican filmmakers. How much do you know about Mexico?

I spent two months in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. I think its colors, music, food, and people are wonderful. It’s the only time I felt like I could stop making movies and just exist in the moment. It was as if I had the basics necessary to live. A feeling that I don’t know how to explain.

Traducción: Mario Amaya