Organizers of the Toronto International Film Festival released a statement today expressing “deep concern” after Dox Box documentary director Orwa Nyrabia was arrested August 23 at the Damascus airport, as he was on his way to Cairo. He was taken into custody by one of the security services of the Syrian regime to be detained in the jail cells of the intelligence services. There has been no news of him since.
An independent filmmaker and producer, Nyrabia has produced films in Syria, most notably for the French-German television channel, Arté. With his wife, the documentary filmmaker Diana El-Jeiroudi, he founded an indie production company called Proaction Films in 2002, the first such company that was not run by the state. He has also served on the jury of the Amsterdam, Tehran, Leipzig and Copenhagen documentary film festivals. Along with el-Jeiroudi, he was awarded the European Documentary Network award for their exceptional contribution to the development of documentary cinema.
In 2008, Nyrabia and El-Jeiroudi founded Dox Box, an international festival of documentaries held in Syria. Over the following years, the festival grew and became well-known well beyond the limits of the region. In recent years, workshops and other activities for upcoming Syrian film-makers played an increasingly important role and underscored the significance of the festival for the country’s young film-making scene.
Festival organizers feel that Nyrabia belongs to the emerging generation of Syrian filmmakers passionate about world cinema and passionate about freedom. “We are extremely concerned by his arrest — filmmakers must be allowed to express themselves through their films, without fear of reprisal,” the fest said in a statement. The most recent Dox Box, which had been planned for March, was moved to a number of international film fests, and was considered an expression of protest against the violence of a government in turmoil, and the fact that the international community hasn’t stepped in to stop it.
After the arrest and conviction of Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasouloff, Nyrabia’s troubles in Syria illustrates how perilous it is to be a director in Middle East and make challenging films when the governments there are more interested in repressing their talented filmmakers instead of celebrating them. What a shame.