Syrian director Ossama Mohammed (59) is not allowed to come back to Syria for political reasons. “I have an obsession with facing authority,” Mohammed told New Yorker journalist Lawrence Wright in 2006. “This society is responsible for creating the dictatorship — it’s in our culture, our way of believing and thinking. I am trying to expose the authority inside us and the shadow of political authority in front of our doors.” Mohammed made only two feature-length films: “Stars in Broad Daylight” (1988) and “Sacrifices,” also known as “The Box of Life” (2002), both of which were critical of the Syrian dictatorship. They were well-received in Europe, where they were shown at the Cannes Film Festival – but ultimately banned by Syrian censors in his home country. Since last year, Mohammed is living as a political refugee in Paris. He has been awarded a residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts. This is his first film, shot in 1977. It’s a student’s film: Mohammed studied at the Moskow Film School VGIK at that time. The black and white picture of a small village named Rama starts and ends with children. They are not unhappy playing in the fields and singing in school. “I want to be a doctor”, a little boy says. “I want to be a teacher”, “I want to be an engineer” are other plans. But life in the country is hard with only agriculture, construction and factories as possible employment – all that without transportation or water. Even if you know that the pictures are taken in the 70s, it’s heartbreaking to see a little boy carrying two large jerry cans of water. Older men carry sacks of concrete on the construction site. We are informed that “the work day is no less than ten hours”. Young men in their 20s forget about their dreams and choose the army, even if they want to study. Their reason: they come home exhausted from studying and are forced by the family to work in the fields. And there is the clever indoctrination by the Imam: Being a soldier is God’s will. But the most frightening scene shows a soldier who tells that he’ll kill his own brother if he speaks up against the state. “Step by Step” is a touching statement, well put together with no direct political demand to act, because this is not necessary after these strong emotional images of children and young men in despair. “I see the ruling regime as an enemy of culture, freedom, and humanity,” Mohammed told the New Yorker – also a statement that applies to his film.
von Andrea Dittgen