Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The Winds That Scatter

Escape Song

The indifference of reality, of the universe, to existence: that is one of the themes of Christopher Jason Bell's 2015 US feature The Winds That Scatter, the depiction of a Syrian refugee, Ahmad Chahrour, in search of odd jobs in the area of northern Jersey that circles Newark.

"They did not spare anyone. They killed people and destroyed the place. They killed all that walks": the words spoken by one of the men in a suburban living room get-together as he shares iPhone footage of the aftermath-carnage in Aleppo, Damascus, any town in Syria. Bashar al-Assad and Daesh have scattered Syria's sons and daughters, relegated them to lives lived inbetween: murdered at home, adrift and unwanted abroad, where only the lucky few will find the means to hashtag: NoNotAllArabs.

Small resonances of 9/11 abound in The Winds That Scatter. As Bell explained in a statement to IndieWire: "I didn't want to make yet another white male-centric film as those are quite prominent in both Hollywood and independent film. At the same time I thought it was important to portray Muslims and Arabic people in a positive light given the atmosphere in post-9/11 America. Collaboration was the key to avoiding not only the typical portrayal (terrorists) but also Orientalism.
" — Resultingly, images challenge images: "a gathering of Muslim men in a suburban house" vs. "a cell"; "a public protest denouncing Bashar" vs. Trump's "thousands celebrating"; the wreckage of what appears to be an airliner in the middle of the woods...

Then reverse the power, consider the here-and-elsewhere. Here: the demolition of buildings to make way for luxury condominiums aligned with contiguous market values. There: structures razed by continuous shelling and pell-mell catapulted barrel-bombs. In either instance only façades remain.

Two inflections then of the Mechanical. One pertains to death from sideways and above, and the ensuing flight-instinct. The other involves capital, labor, and the automaton. (This aspect of The Winds That Scatter calls to mind for me another great and politically-made film I saw recently: Abel Ferrara's Welcome to New York and its post-prologue overture of money-making at the U.S. Mint.)

The old advice given to artists is: "Write what you know." Bell chooses: "Write what you don't know" instead, that is, this white male prefers the route of exploration. There are two authors of the film, then: Bell, and Chahrour or, by extension, Chahrour's Syrian expat community. So a merging of impulses occurs: Not only to merely document the daily routines of the dispossessed, but to get inside, to live it, to understand that the small quotidian defeats cumulatively brutalize: you can't smoke in here; this trade's too complicated for you to learn the ropes...

As is already too clear at the time of this writing in December 2015, and as The Winds That Scatter further elucidates, for much of the Syrian nation and the wider Arabic population enforced diaspora is still no guarantee of escape.


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