Omar Amiralay

(1944 - 2011)

OMAR AMIRALAY was born in Damascus in 1944 and headed to Paris in 1965 to pursue studies in drama and theater at the Théâtre des Nations. Gradually he began to lean towards cinema and enrolled at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques, or IDHEC (now known as FEMIS) in 1967. When the 1968 student revolt erupted, he joined the hordes of protestors, and began to film. His fate was sealed; he never returned to the IDHEC and instead began to make documentary films. He returned to Damascus eager to instigate a new documentary cinema. His first three films, ‘Film-Muhawalah ‘An Sadd al-Furat’ (‘Film-Essay on the Euphrates Dam’, 1970), al-Hayat al-Yaomiyyah fi Qarya Suriyya (Everyday Life in a Syrian Village, 1974), and al- Dajaj (The Chickens’, 1977) were essays on the government’s failure to provide basic amenities to the poor. Amiralay’s new approach to documentary filmmaking gradually became recognized in the Arab world and Europe. Subsequent films include An Thawra’ (‘About a Revolution’, 1978), Lebanon ‘Masa ’ibu Qawm ‘Inda Qawm Fouad’ (‘The Misfortunes of Some’, 1982).  Ra’ihat al- Janna’ (‘A Scent of Paradise’, 1982); ‘A l’attention de Madame le Premier Ministre Bénazir Bhutto’ (‘For the Attention of Madame the Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’, 1989-1994); ‘Rajol al-Hitha’ al-Thahabi’ (‘The Man with the Golden Soles’, 2000), and ‘Tufan Fi Balad el-Ba‘th’ (‘A Flood in Baath Country’, 2003). His cinema has become canon for generations of documentary filmmakers in the Arab world.

A Plate of Sardines (Tabaq el-Sardin)

(Omar Amiralay, 1997)

“The first time I heard of Israel, I was in Beirut, and the conversation was about a plate of sardines. I was six years old, Israel was two.” In this...

Film-Essay on the Euphrates Dam (Film-Muhawalah ‘An Sadd al-Furat)

(Omar Amiralay, 1970)

Amiralay’s first short film is an enthusiastic and lyrical depiction of the Ba’athist regime’s construction of the Assad dam on the Euphrates River. Its cinematic exuberance with regard to large-scale...

The Chickens (‘al-Dajaj’)

(Omar Amiralay, 1977)

Amiralay’s third documentary was produced by and for Syrian state television, though it was subsequently banned. Its focus was the new chicken farming industry in a pilot village in the...