Comrades and lovers Amer and Raghda met in a Syrian prison cell 15 years ago. When Sean McAllister first meets their family in 2009, Raghda is back in prison leaving Amer to look after their four boys alone; but as the ‘Arab Spring’ sweeps the region, the family’s fate shifts irrevocably. Filmed over five years, the film charts their incredible odyssey to political freedom. For Raghda and Amer, it is a journey of hope, dreams and despair: for the revolution, their homeland and each other.

Director's Statement

I first went to Syria in 2009, curious about its secularism and booming tourist industry. Under Bashar Al Assad, the young ‘reformer’, tourism was generating millions of dollars a year. I met Amer, drinking a beer in a bar. Here was someone who wanted to show the world the truth of the Syrian people away from the glitz of the tourist quarters in old Damascus. My love affair with Syria had begun ...
Amer's family moved 15 times during filming, but at each stage I was always welcomed in - I always had a place at the dinner table and a place to stay in their home. I didn’t know Raghda when I started filming – as she was in prison – but I never expected that she would end up taking centre stage of this film. At first – just as Amer had been – she was very stilted with the camera and naturally untrusting. But the longer I stayed with them the closer I got. The closeness became difficult at one stage as their relationship really broke down and Raghda would call me and ask me to come over to help make sense of their lives and their faltering relationship. It was as if they had both stepped into the film and used it for their own means. It is this involvement in the process of filming that I find most fascinating and I’m always surprised as a filmmaker to witness the brutal honesty of people when they are naked and open in front of your camera. It is a painstaking process - it takes years to get inside, so that people are not just acting out their lives in front of your camera but using you and a projected audience to help make sense of the world they find themselves in.
We weren't commissioned or supported to make the film until quite late in the process so I didn't really know if the film would ever see the light of day but I kept going back to see them as friends and filming - I couldn't stop myself. In retrospect, this gave the film it's longevity and story arch and has made the experience of making this film more like a life I adopted, or a family that eventually adopted me. It's an absurd hobby I call a job; it kills me most of the time but has the small significant reward of seeing my characters championed on the screen and stepping forward defiant in their lives through their involvement with the film. I feel proud and happy for Amer, Raghda and their beautiful wonder family, and very honoured that they gave so much to make this film – it is the most special film I have made to date in my career.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Sean McAllister

Produced by: Elhum Shakerifar

Cinematography: Sean McAllister

Editing: Matthew Scholes, Johnny Burke

Original Score: Terence Dunn

Nominations and Awards

  • European Documentary 2015
  • Documentary Selection 2015