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Watch: Cameras roll in Damascus as film industry calls action again

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By Lindsey Johnstone  with Reuters
One production company is making a series about a Sufi cleric for the UAE
One production company is making a series about a Sufi cleric for the UAE   -   Copyright  Reuters   -  

Cameras are rolling again at Damascus studios as the Syrian film industry comes back to life.

Film sets fell silent during the war and well-known actors and directors left to work in other Arab states as, like most other sectors of the economy in Syria, the once flourishing film and television industry was hit hard by a war that has killed half a million people, forced millions from their homes and laid waste to swathes of the country since 2011.

However, fighting around Damascus ended last year after a series of massive government offensives, reflecting a wider increase in state control around the country. Ziad al-Rayes, head of the television producers' association in Syria, said that, as a result, it was possible to film in the country again.

He added that Syria was a very desirable location for directors, and not just because costs are lower than elsewhere in the Middle East. "Here you can find all four seasons, here you have the sea and the desert at the same time, you have the mountains, the valleys and the snow."

One television series currently being filmed, to air in the United Arab Emirates, is about a Sufi cleric. A film set just outside Damascus stands in for its fictional location in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Television series are also being produced for broadcast in Lebanon and in Syria's two closest allies, Russia and Iran, the producers' association said.

One well-known actor, 41-year-old Qays al-Sheikh Najib, is now filming in Syria for the first time in eight years, playing a photographer in a new series called A Safe Distance, which looks at how the Syrian war affected its people.

He said that Syrian actors have maintained their standing in the region, depsite the years of interruption in their industry. "Syrian actors have held on to their standing in the Arab world, in the Arab acting scene. They remained in position, despite everything that has happened."

However, Syrian director Allayth Hajjo claims that, thanks to social media, Syrian drama has never really gone away.

"We heard a lot of talk about sanctions or boycotts of Syrian drama. Maybe producers have faced obvious losses but there is wide circulation of Syrian drama on social media and YouTube. It is cheap, even free, and readily available. "