Sanctions Threaten Syrian Television Drama
By: Wissam Kanaan
Published Sunday, November 20, 2011
Despite concerns that Arab League sanctions may stifle Syrian artistic communities, some drama companies are going ahead with a number of new television projects.
Damascus - Television drama companies in Syria have been concerned about the local industry ever since the outbreak of protests around the country. Syrian TV dramas are among the most popular of their kind in the Arab world. Many in the TV drama community have grown increasingly worried following the Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria’s membership and impose economic sanctions.
Despite a bleak outlook for television productions due to the impending siege on the country, Syria’s national television and radio producer, the International Syria Company, and a number of private companies remain somewhat upbeat about their production schedule.
These companies have a raft of dramas in the making including Zeit Kaz (Oil Kerosene), written by Zuheir Knouh and based on Ayman Rida’s story; Sukkar Maleh (Salty Sugar) starring Amal Arafa and al-Muthanna Subh; and Law Tierafo (If You Knew), written by Othman Jiha and depicts the life of the Syrian singer Asala.
Knouh told Al-Akhbar that the Arab League’s decision will impact drama production in two ways.
“The first is related to marketing and the second to production. The two are interconnected. It is now certain that the drama season is destined to be under siege,” Knouh said.
He said that even though some expect the boycott of Syrian productions, “Arab public opinion remains different from that of the governments, no matter how far the latter may go.”
“The Arab audience will not abandon Syrian drama, even if they are only shown on our local channels,” he said.
“Away from politics, logic indicates that Syrian drama will continue. It is enough to see our productions on our national channels, which will also present us with an opportunity to attract Arab audiences,” Knouh said.
Producer Diala al-Ahmar said that her Golden Line Company is not affected by any political decisions, “because deep down we are sure that no matter how bad the crisis gets, the situation will eventually calm down and things will go back to normal.”
Golden Line is in the process of producing three series this season: Khawabi al-Sham (Damascus Urns) by Qusai al-Asadi and Tamer Ishaq, a contemporary social series written by Ishaq, in addition to the third season of al-Dabbour (The Wasp) by Marwan Daouk and Tamer Ishaq.
However, al-Ahmar complains that some actors and technicians decided not to work with her company this season, while others insisted on higher wages due to the bad economic conditions.
Mazen Abbas, a young actor, told Al-Akhbar that any observer of the Syrian situation cannot but acknowledge the presence of a severe and unprecedented crisis in Syrian dramas.
“We cannot ignore the benefits of this popular product that has become indispensable to the audience,” he said. Abbas said he is confident “that Syrian drama will continue, even if the viewership may decline in comparison to previous years.”
Several other production companies are going ahead with plans for a number of new shows. Bana Company said it has a few in the works but does want to reveal their names.
Kabnad Production Company will begin shooting a Damascus series titled Tawk al-Banat (Girls’ Collar), written by Ahmad Hamed. Klaket for Artistic Production will begin filming Banat al-Eila (Family Girls), written by Rania Bitar and directed by Rasha Sharbatji, in a few days.
In light of tightening sanctions on Syria, the audience could still be the judge. Given that Syrian drama has become a number one attraction for advertisers, the most important question remains whether Gulf television channels will cooperate with Syrian producers to show their work despite the siege and restrictions.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.