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Khutwa Khutwa (1978)

In a rolling area of Syria, the villagers live their everyday life, in toil and poverty. Trapped between the hardships of farming, religious and political ideologies, they barely survive. ... See full summary »


Ossama Mohammed


Ossama Mohammed




In a rolling area of Syria, the villagers live their everyday life, in toil and poverty. Trapped between the hardships of farming, religious and political ideologies, they barely survive. Their children are the only ones that are still full of hope. They imagine their future lives and picture themselves as doctors or engineers. But these are pipe dreams. All they can actually look forward to is farming the land with primitive tools like their parents, getting a menial job in the city or becoming brainwashed soldiers... Written by Guy Bellinger

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Documentary | Short







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1978 (Syria) See more »

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Usama Muhammad's graduation film. See more »

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Committed documentary
15 November 2010 | by guy-bellingerSee all my reviews

At first sight «Step by Step» (Khutwa Khutwa) appears as a standard documentary, describing a remote rolling area and its inhabitants somewhere in the Syrian countryside. The viewers are made to discover a fine landscape and engaging people but a feature strikes them at once, the extreme poverty that prevails in the region. No tractors, only donkeys and swing plows; undecorated, barely furnished interiors and in the cold season, awfully muddy ways and paths. The director Usama Muhammad, whose film school graduation project this is, proves an able documentary maker and what the viewer is given to see is enough to keep them interested.

However, as soon as the villagers' children appear on the screen they realize that there will be more to this short film than meets the eye. The director feels real affection for these kids and it shows. Their beautiful faces, their deep and intense gazes are captured by Usama Muhammad's loving camera. You get the instant feeling that these innocent creatures are still pure and unindoctrinated. When they are asked about how they imagine their future job, they all invariably see themselves as doctors or engineers. It is not long before the director (who spent his final film school year among these people) makes his point: these are pipe dreams. For the school they go to after a long walk through muddied paths is basic at best. For their parents and relatives barely survive in working in the fields for unending hours. For those who go to the city (which is the case of one young villager kicked out of home by his father) only get a day laborer's job. For the only peasants that live decently now are those who joined the army.

Present throughout the film, the children's innocence and high hopes are the accusatory finger pointed at the rulers of Syria (the year is 1977), supposedly socialist but who, despite the Bath party's propaganda, do not give all the people their chance.

Halfway through "Step by Step", the viewer is now aware that he is not watching just another documentary but is shown incriminating evidence against the sham of power. Of course, the director does not attack dictatorial president Hafez al-Assad and his Bath party head-on. You must read between the lines to get the message. But the point is made clearly when you compare what the protagonists say and what you can see (for instance the voice of the hostess addressing the privileged passengers of a long haul flight can be heard while a jet flies over villagers, stressing without voicing it that the people down there will never be able to do the same). Likewise no comment is made when hollow propaganda slogans by loudspeakers are retransmitted in the streets of the city by loudspeakers . Or when a villager turned brainwashed soldier declares that he would have no qualms about killing a member of his family if they say something against the regime. Full of empathy for the persons he films, Usama Muhammed is already the rebellious director he will become. Unwilling to compromise with those in power, he will be able to make only two features in 30 years, 'Stars in Broad Daylight' (1988) and 'Sunduq al-dunyâ' (2002), not even shown in his native Syria. The price to pay to remain free.

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