Qutaiba Barhamji, documentary filmmaker: “Land like exile, it’s a lot of waiting”

From a small plot cultivated with care near Reims, Gevar, a Syrian refugee, has made his home. “La Terre de Gevar” is one of our favorites of the Vrai de Vrai festival – The Stars of Documentary. Meeting with its director.

On his little balcony, the tomato, zucchini or watermelon plants that he himself sowed take up almost all the space. In Gevar’s head, too… The vegetable garden is definitely a devouring passion. From a small piece of land rented in a community garden on the outskirts of Reims, Gevar has made the center of his new life, far from Syria, which he fled with his partner and young son. Peaceful days pass there between the construction of a barbecue, the wise advice of a neighbour, a nature which imposes its laws… Simple happiness sometimes disturbed by news of the war emerging from a telephone. Such is the motionless adventure, a subtle story of exile and roots, told by The Land of Gevar, first feature documentary by Qutaiba Barhamji, one of our favorites from the selection of the Scam Vrai de Vrai Festival.

For four seasons, the director, himself from Syria and editor of many films, followed Gevar in his efforts to tame this land, build a place for himself here, without forgetting there. “From the start, I understood the whole meaning of this work on the land, but I didn’t want to give so much importance to the symbol. From a cinematographic point of view, what first interested me in this learning process was to be constantly in the present time. When exiled Syrians meet, it is generally only a question of the past, of nostalgia, of failures… The land lives its life. We are immediately in the birth of something, in the unexpected. »

When he meets Gevar for the first time, the director, living in France since 2005, has just moved to Reims. There he discovers a small Syrian community grouped together in a few HLM bars and immediately perceives “the beginning of isolation, the impossibility of integration into society”. Soon, the rental of small allotment gardens became an opportunity to be seized. Gevar, for his part, sees it as much a way of supplying his family with organic vegetables as of getting out of a daily life that turns in circles, weighed down by the fruitless search for a stable job. “With Gevar, we are of the same generation, with the difference that he experienced the revolution, while I was in France. I wanted to spend more time with him because his opinions interest me a lot. When I told him that I wanted to film it, over time, without censorship, he trusted me. »

Qutaiba Barhamji has lived in France since 2005. He lives in Reims where he was quickly confronted, along with his Syrian peers, with the difficulties of integration.

True to True Festival

Summer evenings dragging on to the last winter visit to the weedy terrain, The Land of Gevar progresses with the patience of the gardener. “I wanted to create this rhythm, made up of long beats. Land like exile is a lot of waiting. And what do we put under this term integration, is it a myth, what do we concretely do for it to exist? » The answer obviously does not need long speeches. It is due to small nothings, moments of family happiness, or to a joyful complicity woven with the neighbors of the vegetable garden to defy the ban on watering, in the middle of a heat wave.

The director has chosen not to evoke the past head-on, again letting time do its work: “Each time his wife spoke to him about the events in Syria, I saw that Gevar avoided the discussion, he dodged…” Of his militant activities, which earned him a stay in prison, he will not say anything either. This restraint makes all the more precious the rare moments when, all in his plantations, he lowers his guard a little. There are buried memories that invite themselves into the “dreams that we can’t control” or a confidence addressed to the father of the director who came to visit Reims.

“Gevar started to open up at that time. He speaks of his feeling of having left behind the country and the common dream to pursue an individual dream. This revolution was that of a people who took to the streets, unarmed, for their freedom. A very strong moment that united many Syrians. Then, we talked about civil war, Islamism, terrorism… Many exiles find it difficult to live with this altered dream, in a society where they are asked to integrate, whereas they have never intended to go abroad to have better social security. » Far from Syria, and now far from his vegetable garden in Reims, Gevar pursued his dream in Toulouse, where he founded a small construction company. He and his partner welcomed a second child. If he probably no longer has time to cultivate the land, he continues to put down roots.

r The Land of Gevar, documentary by Qutaiba Barhamji, France, 2020, 77 mins. On Télérama.fr from October 26 to 1er november.


► True to true – 17e Documentary Stars Festival. From November 4 to 6, Forum des images, 2, rue du Cinéma, Paris 1er, truedevrai.fr.
Accessible on presentation of the Festival pass (1 pass, 32 films), free by reservation on forumdesimages.fr from October 25. Or pick up on site.

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Qutaiba Barhamji, documentary filmmaker: “Land like exile, it’s a lot of waiting”

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