Gentrifying heritage and identity in Amman and Damascus

Focusing on the gentrification of heritage neighbourhoods in Damascus and Amman, this project set out to find out what happens when you carry out research and represent and present it in a range of different filmic formats rather than text.

In 2009 I spent 8 months filming in the two cities of Amman and Damascus. This was a collaborative project that aimed to collect approximately 100 interviews with different stakeholders involved in the production and consumption of heritage in the region, particularly the heritage concerning these two cities. The first four short films use a combination of some (but certainly not all) of these different audio-visual styles of representation:

VISUALISING THE PAST, REBRANDING THE PRESENT I

I. Amman – Straightforward documentary. This film uses talking heads, a linear style and cutaways to present a question about heritage and Amman, and also offer some possible answers. The subject is understandable and the documentary format is there in order to reveal the issues in a straightforward way to the viewer in order for the viewer to feel they have understood all the issues and can come to some kind of conclusion. This is underlined by the presence of figures of authority. This positionality is not particularly challenging to the viewer who is allowed to maintain their ‘distance’ from what is being viewed.

VISUALISING THE PAST, REBRANDING THE PRESENT I

II. Mysterious Syria – Here the camera turns on itself more – there are patterns and associations – there are no cutaways to explain the comments but instead they have been collected and sorted according to a pre-determined set of categories and spaces. The viewer is pushed more to consider the role of the filmmaker in the construction of the argument (if any) and the way information is presented, leading to a potentially less comfortable viewing experience.

VISUALISING THE PAST, REBRANDING THE PRESENT III

III. Audio-Visual Levant – In this short piece sound and image are de-linked causing the viewer to become aware of the connections (or lack of connections) between the two different senses. Moving images are still and act as signifiers – they are literally signs but the viewer is not given any guidance how to read them. This form of film often raises more questions than it will ever answer. Is there an argument in the sequence of images or is it random? What is the relationship between sound and image.

VISUALISING THE PAST, REBRANDING THE PRESENT IV BITTER COFFEE

IV. New concepts of heritage and history are beginning to transform the urban spaces of many major Arab cities. This film brings my collaborator Zaher Al Saghir to the fore. Official representatives from the Ministry of Tourism, the European Union, an international development organisation and the city municipality voice their perspectives on heritage against a background of the noises of the Old City and Zaher’s interviews with shopkeepers, local residents and young Syrian visitors.

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