One of the most revered documentary filmmakers in the Middle East is free today, three weeks after being abducted by Syrian authorities.
Orwa Nyrabia is strong and in good spirits, according to his uncle Ossama Mohammed, a Syrian director in exile in France.
Nyrabia was arrested on August 23rd at Damascus International Airport, as he was boarding a flight to Egypt. It's not clear what happened to him after that, but it's widely believed he was in the custody of Syria's intelligence services.
This week, authorities turned Nyrabia over to a civilian court, which reviewed his case, acquitted him and released him. However, it's still not clear what the charges were. Apparently, in other similar cases, people have been charged with weakening national morale or spreading false information.
When Nyrabia's family and friends got news of his arrest, they set up a Facebook campaign calling for his release. As well, more than 100 prominent directors and actors called for his release using both letters and video. Among them were Martin Scorcese, Robert DeNiro, Jeremy Irons, Josh Brolin, Michelle Rodriguez, Jonathan Demme, Judd Apatow, and Richard Linklater.
Ken Burns and Paul Haggis also took part. They're both coming up on the show this season. Here's the video called Free Orwa.
The Toronto International Film Festival also expressed "grave concern" for Nyrabia and said he "belongs to the emerging generation of Syrian filmmakers passionate about world cinema and passionate about freedom."
The Directors Guild of America, ArteEast, the Berlin Film Festival, Film Forum and others also released statements to draw attention to Nyrabia's arrest.
Nyrabia co-founded the only independent documentary-film company in Syria. He also runs the Dox Box festival, which brings international documentaries to Syria. It's the largest documentary-film festival in the Arab world.
This past spring, it was basically cancelled as organizers decided to send the films to other festivals around the world, because of the civil war in Syria.
His release comes just days after the death of Syrian filmmaker Tamer al-Awam. He was killed in the city of Aleppo "where he was filming the bombardment of civilian neighborhoods," according to The New York Times. One of al-Awam's most recent films was a 24-minute documentary on the war called 'Memories at a Checkpoint.' It's in Arabic, but you don't have to speak the language to understand the devastation, fear and sadness people are enduring.
At one point, Awam asks a little boy "where is your father?" The boy says "paradise." "Who killed him?" Awam asks. "The army," the boy says.
In making the film, Awam said he wanted to give a voice to people who want the world to stop the killing. It's worth a look.