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The Museum of Contemporary Torture
By Ossama Mohammed
To the young Syrian filmmaker
I do not like parallel montage--this is just how god of cinema designed me
And who can argue with the gods?
But I do not like the parallel montage...for another reason:
While I was speaking at the other end of the world
(at the Museum of Modern Art in New York)
The young filmmaker Ali al-Sheikh Khudr was thrust into
A museum of torture in Damascus.
Ali al-Sheikh Khudr disappeared a week ago,
His body and soul abused in an anonymous prison
Where someone spits on his camera even now.
In the parallel montage, it is a farce to be at the podium without him
Because Ali now exists or does not, is alive or is not.
The cannibals will destroy him now, tonight, at dawn, who knows when? given the vast time difference between Ali and his killer
Between two imaginations and civilizations.
While I am here he is here.
While he is there I am there.
Time is time, both in New York and Syria.
Balanced perspectives offend few and change nothing.
Ali saw an infinity of evil when he was blindfolded by the ignorant gang.
I believe he also saw me.
"Where are you my teacher?"
This was his last message to me, sent a few days before his disappearance.
A year ago, the ringing phone woke me at three in the morning…I thought it was the ring of fear and loss.
It was Ali… and it was a call of love:
"My teacher. I fell in love…I have lost my virginity."
Refusing to hoard his happiness, he shared it with me.
And crying with joy,
"Where are you my teacher?"
Ali has been arrested.
This is a lie.
There are no arrests in Syria.
Language shrivels before the horror of Syrian prisons (where thousands are caged). Words collapse under the hell this moment might visit on a young filmmaker.
Investigation??? Ha hah!
What sculpture are the executioners making out of you my little brother? Oh, Ali!
He stares at his killer with eyes seemingly closed—like one who does not sleep yet just awoke—confuses one vision with another, confuses wakefulness with sleep.
Ali searches for a new expression to explain what he sees.
Ali al-Sheikh Khudr has a delicate frame; the breeze could carry him away and leave not even a trace of bones.
But he is the grandchild of Andrei Trakovsky, David Lynch and Omar Amiralay.
The executioner — that inverted Don Quixote — will relentlessly hammer blows like a tidal wave of shots in a film.
And when murder undoes Ali’s body, his great soul will defiantly rise and rejuvenate even the dead.
Suddenly my friend opens his beautiful eyes and begins to chide me about a film he did not like-- as if I had been its maker.
He cautions me against detached analysis:
It will squelch the voice of Syria's youth —
its new, incandescent stars—
who thunder “freedom!”
Ali, my young Syrian film teacher...where are you?
Edited translation from the Arabic by Elie Chalala
This text was presented in the Museum of Modern Art in New York on October 1, 2011 as an introduction by Ussama Mohammad to his film "Nujoum al-Nahar" (Stars of Light) as a tribute to Ali al-Sheikh Khudr, who was arrested by Syrian authorities. The Arabic text appeared in Al Hayat, October 26, 2011