Syrian puppet satire honoured in Cairo

Events and Festivals, Industry, Syria

Syrian puppet satire honoured in Cairo

An anonymous kiffeyeh-clad filmmaker from Syria was among the winners of a short film competition for the under-25 at the Cairo Human Rights Film Festival 2011 this week.

Beesho, a creative satire of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad using finger puppets already profiled in the Global Post, was among the five winners of the contest organised by the American Islamic Congress. The short film, originally developed for the contest, went viral when it was posted on Facebook last November, and has since evolved into a whole series, Top Goon, Diaries of a Little Dictator.

The first and second episodes, shown at the film festival, were respectively Beeshoo’s nightmares and Who wants to kills a million?, a spoof of popular television show Who wants to be a millionaire? with Beesho and the presenter standing behind Rubik’s Cubes.

“A Syrian filmmaker critiquing brutal repression dares not show his face - so he instead uses his hands,” begins the description on the competition’s website. “The result is an ingenious finger-puppet show that mocks a quasi-sacred figure in Syrian society: turning President Bashar Al-Assad into a puppet named “Beeshou” (a diminutive for “Bashar”) in a spoof of classic “Punch and Judy” sketches.

“The film tells two remarkable stories: one being ostensible plot of the puppets and the other the bravery of young Syrians who, simply by placing their hands inside puppets in a dark room somewhere in Damascus, are risking their lives.

“Originally developed as an entry for the film contest, the cathartic film went viral on Syrian Facebook pages and soon spawned a whole series, which has been watched by thousands. The filmmaker, who is based inside the country, must remain anonymous for fear of retribution from the security forces.”

Two filmmakers from Egypt were also among those honoured in Cairo, with short film Sign of the Times by Nabeel Ashraf also chosen as a winner of the competition, and Speak: Women of Alshohba by Ali el-Sotohy receiving an honorable mention.

If the protester was the Time’s person of the year this year, then peaceful protests were the theme of the human right’s film festival held a cultural centre across the Nile from Tahrir Square, with documentaries about peaceful protest in Serbia, India, South Africa, and the US being screened throughout the four-day event. These included documentary series A force more powerful, Swedish production Zero Silence about the uprisings in the Arab world this spring, and Pink Saris, a British documentary about a formidable woman who defends female victims of injustice in her community.

From Egypt, the festival screened Egyptian journalist Ahmed Abdulfatah’s short film My Diaries of Monrovia - Maspero, a personal account of his living through Cairo’s Maspero massacre this October while he was covering the Liberia’s first free elections, and a reflection on how long it takes to acheive a real democracy.

On Masasit Mati’s YouTube channel, the Top Goon series is still going strong. The latest episode uploaded on December 22 is of Beesho’s Birthday, in which he talks to his deceased father with a lisp about how best to contain popular revolts.

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