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New film explores innocence and friendship in war-torn Syria

30 March 20230 comments

As the Syrian civil war raged around them the children of Aleppo found solace in a simple card game.

The game of Tabbeh, played with cards that came in packets of chewing gum, gave them an escape from the bombings, destruction and death crippling their city.

Now the game, which no longer exists because of the devastation induced exodus from Aleppo, is the subject of a short film.

Former Syrian refugee and Swinburne University Film and Television honours student Sarah Ghassali is making the film based on her memories of those dark day in her home town.

“We are recreating a moment in time. In Aleppo everyone was playing the game and when the war came it was a way of escaping the reality of the conflict and supporting each other,” Sarah said.

“The game is a really special and positive memory for all of us who were there,” she said.

“It spread through schools and playgrounds, becoming a vehicle of escape, fun and innocence for children of all ages. 

“Tabbeh does not exist anymore, perhaps only in memories. The cards dispersed in the back pockets of past players of the Syrian diaspora. But we are bringing it back through the film.

“The game and film are about friendships across time and how imagination allows you to visit magical places,” Sarah said.

The film, titled ‘Tabbeh’, is an exercise in magical realism which centres on two 13-year-old best friends, Farha and Rosa, who sit down to play a round of Tabbeh in a home-made fort and catch up on the latest gossip.

Their passion for play and friendship takes them far and wide, into different worlds of their own. They change into different costumes, imitating different people, wanting to grow up quickly.

Sarah says the film isn’t about nostalgia, it’s a re-telling of a special moment between friends that is full of humour and innocence.

“Magical realism is strongly rooted in anti-colonial narratives and re-claiming stories,” she said.

“In Arabic cinema, there is space and importance for stories on Arabic dispossession and experiences to exist, but it’s time to embrace new subgenres, because we deserve to see those stories, too. Not only for us, but for those who remember the game, and all the warmth it brought them in the most difficult times. 

“Rosa and Farha share this single moment in time, despite all odds against them, their love of play, innocence, and each other, can transform them into anywhere and everywhere they want to go,” Sarah said.

The film stars two 13-year-old Arabic-aspiring actors who are excited about the prospect of filming, which begins in April.

Along with Director and Writer Sarah, the team producing the film are Producer Grace Hird, Director of Photography Bella Salvatore, Production Designer Sarah Jones, Sound Designer Gaia Mitting and Editor Minnie Nancarrow.

The team is seeking funding to complete the film.

“We need help to pay for studio time, actors’ payments, equipment hire and other costs. But this month has been a difficult time for the Syrian community, here and abroad, so any additional donations we get will go directly to support earthquake relief in Aleppo and surrounds,” Sarah said.

Find out how you can help here:  Tabbeh – Short Film at Pozible – Pozible