Syrian director and producer Diana El Jeiroudi spent 12 years making “Republic of Silence,” her decidedly non-conventional documentary, perhaps better described as a personal video diary, depicting the turmoil of Syria’s uprising seen from the outside. This sprawling non-linear work that jumps between Syria and her present home in Berlin and comprises the plight of her partner/collaborator Orwa Nyrabia [artistic director of Amsterdam’s IDFA documentary festival] who was detained in their home country, is divided in chapters. It also unfolds as a free-flowing mosaic of fragments and recollections, photos and archive footage that make it interesting beyond the gravitas of its subject matter.
In Venice, where “Republic of Silence” premiered out-of-competition, El Jeiroudi spoke to Variety about how she waded her way through the personal and practical to shape its bold experimental narrative. Excerpts.
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How did you go about putting ‘Republic of Silence’ together?
First of all I started with writing. When you do that you have a whole world of options that you of course have to narrow down. Then I started researching, or mining, my own footage. There was a lot of visual material, and I also record a lot of sounds. I look at it like a piece of music: to compose something it doesn’t have to be just one instrument. And I like composition.
Simply put, I see this as a film about exile. But there is a lot more to it than that. What drove you to make it?
What motivated me? So many things. When I started writing this film [shortly before the Syrian uprising started] it was the start of a very intense period of my life. And going forward there were many things boiling inside of me; there was a lot of anger; there was a lot bitterness; there was a lot of pain; there was a lot of loss. You could say making a film is a way of reordering things, so they can make sense, but also so that you can calm down. You can digest all the intensity around you and make sense of it.
Do you agree that ‘Republic of Silence’ has to do with exile and identity?
That is a very difficult question because it depends so much on who the viewer is. Some people who’ve seen it read in it a story of exile, some people say it’s a personal story, and some people say it’s a political one. So it resonates with people on different levels. It could be a film about identity. Definitely. Be it a political identity, a national identity, or a woman’s identity, or the identity of a group. But for me it’s about a chain of human events. I’ve always been fascinated with the life of several things in parallel.
So tell me more about how you shaped it.
After writing and developing the treatment. I assembled a crew of a cinematographer, a sound engineer, and an editor. I wanted a woman to be next to me in the editing room because we would be editing together (I am an editor myself).
We filmed for about three years in total during four sessions. Then me and Katja [Dringenberg], the editor, we started the editing process in October 2019. We would have a first session and then we would talk and rewrite. I also had a consultant who had started out with me while I was writing at the beginning. Because I needed somebody who would help me shape it and tell me if I was overdoing things. That also continued during the editing. There was a lot of writing that took place during the editing as well.
And that process took longer than I thought because there was so much footage and because of the many languages.
But I think the structure of the film came together during the first third of the editing. That’s when we figured out that we were going to have chapters, and it would be a non-linear narrative.
When and how did you decide that you had it figured out?
Well, there was a point where I had to drop a lot of things that I wanted to include. But when that happened that was the moment when I saw the film. It became clear that: Ha! This is the structure.
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