Syrian Sitcoms

Religion, Politics and Sexuality Are Sensitive Issues

The series Hakaya wa Khafaya will be shown on Syrian television during Ramadan. German actress Meike Schlüter played a role in the production that also features Andrej Skaf, one of Syria's best-loved television actors. Manuela Römer reports

photo: Manuela Römer
Meike Schlüter talks to the crew about the production

​​Most people think of Egypt when they think about films from the Arab world. Egypt is certainly still the market leader in the region, but others are catching up. According to Firas Dehni, director and member of the jury for the "Prix Jeunesse", the Bavarian International Youth Film Award, "Syria has worked its way up to number 2 in the rankings with the boom in satellite stations over the past ten years".

The Damascene director says that his series, Hakaya wa Khafaya, is one of the three most important Syrian productions of 2004. The German film and theatre actress Meike Schlüter, who is best-known for her role in the RTL series Hinter Gittern (Behind Bars), plays a German casting agent in search of an injured actor in one episode of the hospital series.

She had no difficulty communicating with the director because Dehni spent four years in Potsdam while studying at the Konrad Wolf College for Film and Television and can speak fluent German. "In all, very few foreign actors work here because of the language barrier; I have an advantage in this regard."

No different from Syrian actors

For the series, some telephone scenes with Meike Schlüter were filmed in German. The director intends to keep these scenes in German for the final product. The scenes where she speaks English, on the other hand, will be subtitled.

Speaking English or French often facilitated communication with some colleagues. "But there was one colleague who couldn't speak any English at all. It didn't matter though, we were constantly laughing together," says Meike Schlüter with reference to Andrej Skaf, one of Syria's best-known and best-loved television stars.

This was the first time that Skaf worked with an actress from the West. He had fun working with Schlüter. "I didn't notice any difference between her and any Syrian actor. I didn't have the impression that she was foreign. On the contrary, it felt like she was one of us. That was lovely."

In terms of the content of the work, neither Firas Dehni nor Meike Schlüter notice any differences between Syria and Germany. There are however differences in production conditions. Dehni wasn't able to rent an entire hotel to film a foyer scene, as would happen in Germany.

"As a result, we kept having to interrupt filming over and over again. That made it very difficult to concentrate. I have huge respect for the team's endurance and talent for improvisation," says Schlüter looking back on her time on set.

Because there are very few studios in Syria, real locations were used for almost all of the scenes. However, unwanted background noise made it necessary to take regular breaks. The advantage of working like this is that the scenes look really authentic on screen.

Sensitive issues

Before the 26 episodes of Hakaya wa Khafaya can be transmitted in mid-October, the series has to get official approval. Great attention is paid to sensitive issues like religion, politics, and sexuality. Meike Schlüter experienced this first hand during filming.

"The director made what appeared to me to be a very strange request: he asked me to cover my knees with my dress; otherwise the scene would have to be cut out."

Dehni, Skaf, and Schlüter agree that the German-Syrian cooperation was a huge enrichment for everybody. "Meike will tell people about Syria, and Syrian actors learned things from her. Working with people like this can bring them closer together," sums up Firas Dehni. And, concludes Andrej Skaf, were it not for the language barrier, he would like to play a role in a German series too.

Manuela Römer

© Qantara.de 2004

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