he Syrian revolution against President Bashar al-Assad continues to endure violent crackdowns, detainment and deaths. In response to the absence of media coverage inside Syria, numerous Facebook groups have emerged to support the revolution by providing eye-witness event coverage and video footage.
In this climate of violence, fear, struggle, and uncertainty, a new YouTube comedy sketch is inspiring hope. Horriyeh w Bass (“ Freedom Only”) is a series of 2-3 minute episodes conveying events from the perspective of demonstrators on the ground. Presented as intimate conversations between two Syrian men, the sketches provide a comic critique of the Syrian people tragic predicament.
NOW Lebanon sat down with one member of the Horriyeh w Bass team, who explained how the series is produced by a collective of Syrian expatriate youths. These amateurs rose to the challenge of representing the revolution at a time when Syrian artists and dramatists eschewed political engagement.
Who is behind “Freedom Wo Bass,” and what is your aim?
Horriyeh w Bass: We are part of a larger group called “Maakom” (“With You”), a collective of Syrian youths living outside of Syria who want to support the Syrian people’s call for freedom. Our aim is to unite opposition efforts by homogenizing their profiles and raising awareness. We launched the “Maakom” campaign by stating that we back people inside Syria and stand for what they call for. We created networks in different countries and organized demonstrations of support. Horriyeh w Bass is one of our productions.
How did you decide to film the series?
Horriyeh w Bass: The idea was sparked by our feeling that Syrian artists and actors were failing to support the revolution. The majority of Syrian artists support the regime… this is evident in many statements that have been issued. Many actors have labeled demonstrators as anti-regime collaborators or salafists. They have failed to listen to the street and its demands. We realized that these artists were not going to take up the role people expected, and we thought that we should produce something artistic to fill the void they left.
How does the manner in which you film the series reinforce your message?
Horriyeh w Bass: Two or three years ago, there was a Syrian TV series called Mafi Amal “There’s No Hope,” composed of similar episodes filmed as an intimate conversation between two Syrian men. That series only skimmed the surface of Syrian issues. These sketches were not banned in Syria, because authorities accepted them as a means of venting popular dissatisfaction. The series was very successful. We adopted the same idea, but with a difference: Horriyeh wo Bass discusses current events in Syria, day to day. You will notice that an event is portrayed in an episode as soon as it takes place. Arab people in general, and Syrians specifically, appreciate humor. At a time when the people are saddened by events, we thought humor could have a double effect: firstly, to alleviate the burden of the events, and secondly, to communicate a message.
The episodes are presented as intimate conversations. Do you think this is more effective than conventional media narratives?
Horriyeh w Bass: The two characters presented are from the Syrian streets. One character understands what is taking place, and the other is rather simple. The main aim of their intimate conversations is to make the simple person aware that the Syrian media is questionable, and that the regime is conveying information that completely contradicts the reality of the street. We are trying to make the facts available to hesitant Syrians who have not yet taken the street due to confusion and misinformation.
What else do you feel can be done to promote an alternative, potentiallu more human, understanding of revolutionary events ?
Horriyeh w Bass: We don’t intend to provide full live coverage of events…other pages are currently doing a great job fulfilling that role. We want to address the events in an artistic way, as this is something that no one has attempted yet. So, alongside the sketches, we will produce shows. We are also producing songs; we produced a song called Nehna Maakom “We are with you” and will continue to provide similar productions.
Do you feel that your project is a way of fighting alongside the Syrian revolution?
Horriyeh w Bass: Our ultimate aim is to support the street…it is the street that we believe in. We are not aiming to fight the regime; we just want people’s demands to be fulfilled. Syrian dramatic art, especially television and film production, is important throughout the Arab world. It always conveyed people’s daily lives and needs, so we were surprised when it failed to convey the revolution. So, we have taken on the role of supporting the street, expressing what they would want to express and communicating their message. We don’t have an ultimate political goal, and the members of the group have neither political nor financial ambitions. We are all volunteers, working in the sole interest of our country and attempting to improve people’s living conditions.
What kind of feedback have you been getting from viewers?
Horriyeh w Bass: We are sad that the Syrian street has not been able to see what we are producing due to conditions inside the country. There is no electricity and no internet access. But we’re following up on the comments and messages we receive, on our individual and group pages. People like the series, and some are even requesting additional issues to be addressed. We are working in line with the events, and taking these suggestions into consideration.
Do you feel any pressure to censor your work?
Horriyeh w Bass: We are sticking to internal censorship guidelines we have set ourselves. We are being very careful, and there will be more censorship in the following episodes. It is more professional to convey the message without stating it literally, and without allowing it to be misinterpreted. We do not censor our work out of fear, but rather to communicating our message professionally. We want our message to be exact and clear.
What is the role of humor and comedy in a situation dominated by violence, fear and struggle?
Horriyeh w Bass: I’d like to highlight that we are approaching the holy month of Ramadan, during which Arab viewers are accustomed to watching drama series and comedy. We are expecting a boycott of Syrian television shows, especially those starring actors who have condemned the revolution. Our sketches sometimes include drama, or end with a little joke. Our aim is to convey the message with respect for people’s grievances of the people, while simultaneously inspiring a little smile at a time of need.
Political comedy can be a threat to dictators. Have you received any threats?
Horriyeh w Bass: Up to this day, we have not received any threats. I believe the regime is busy with other issues, and, to be honest, productions like ours are not usually targeted because the regime accepts them as benign venting. The fact that we are operating outside Syria also makes threats less likely. We know that we could be threatened at any point, but the threats we could receive would be nothing compared to the threats faced by revolutionaries inside Syria every day. This is the least we can do.