Iman Said turns a life of displacement into art
Like most Palestinians, screenwriter Iman Said has had her own experience of expulsion and displacement. Born in Kuwait in the mid-1970s, her family was forcibly expelled from the country after the 1991 Gulf War, leading them to settle in Syria.
She used to spend her summer vacations in Damascus and at first she interacted with the city as a tourist. But soon, as she began to make forays into various neighborhoods, she became more familiar with Damascene society in its most intimate folds.
Living a life of a refugee led her to explore the theme on a number of levels, thus laying the framework for her 2009 television drama series, “A Summer Cloud.” The story centers around the lives of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees as well as Syrians displaced from the Golan and the countryside.
They come together in an urban slum setting with all its challenges and frustrations. The series was supposed to end with the refugees being issued warnings that their homes will be demolished, sending them once more to some unknown destination. But such a conclusion was not to the liking of the television censor at the time, forcing her to change the ending to something less violent and dramatic.
Given her life experience, she has come to believe in the role unexpected circumstances can play in determining one’s fate. In Damascus, after discovering a relative’s library, she devoured its contents and developed an appetite for the written word.
There, she discovered her inclination for exploring the lives of those living on the margins and in the shadows. It never occurred to the aspiring psychology student at the time that she would stray from her academic pursuits, but it was not long before she enrolled to study theater at the national academy in Damascus.
“I was such a coward when it came to writing. Every time I read a novel by Gabriel García Márquez, or Dostoevsky for example, I would become stricken with fear when I confronted a blank piece of paper,” she recalled.
Soon, she got over this and began her professional writing career by making adjustments to scripts written for stage, film, and television. Said said that her work at the time was like adjusting crippled texts, so she began producing her own work.
“A Summer Cloud,” was not only her entry into screenwriting, but it was her first major venture into television, where the writer explained she began to appreciate the image as much as the word.
Her new documentary series, “Lifting Fingerprints,” has opened up Said’s horizons, exposing her to the work of a whole host of creative personalities, most of whom work outside the spotlight.
The project involves a series of portraits, of which she has recorded 15 so far. Among her first subjects was Lebanese poet Ounsi el-Hajj, who surprised her when he agreed to be interviewed. Other episodes involve musicians, filmmakers, painters, and directors, among others.
Said explained that it was an enriching experience, in which she felt like she lived all the details of her subjects’ rich lives. “I am thinking of creating a dramatic piece based on the experiences of these people, due to the depth of their life experience,” she said.