DAMASCUS, SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC – There was not a dry eye in the majestic Damascus Opera House when the Philippine Embassy in Syria successfully inaugurated the first ever International Women’s Film Festival at the Damascus Opera House on 23 March 2022. In a historic Opening Reception that began with a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by Chargée d’affaires, a.i. Vida Soraya Verzosa and Dr. Loubana Mouchaweh, Minister of Culture of Syria, guests admired the exhibit of Cinema Posters while violinists charmed the crowd with classical hymns.

Twelve years after the war, gems of Philippine cinema were met with resounding applause by over one thousand guests composed of Syrian government officials, members of the diplomatic corps, international organizations, Filipino community members, academia, media personalities, Syrian celebrities, and the general public over the four-day long festival that lasted from 23-26 March 2022.

During the Opening Ceremony, Dr. Loubana Mouchaweh, Minister of Culture, and cosponsor of the event, welcomed the audience, saying “for the first time after years of war, we celebrate an amazing art that has created wonders… I thank everyone who initiated, contributed, participated and supported the festival, in idea and organization. [sic] All thanks to the participating diplomatic missions, especially the mission of the Republic of the Philippines, represented by the Chargée d’affaires, who is distinguished by her enthusiasm and cooperation.”

In her Opening Remarks, CDA Verzosa explained that, “this cultural diplomacy event highlights digital diplomacy in making it possible to have global cinema promoted and presented here in Syria through technology. This pioneering event is a prime example of international solidarity under the Philippines-Syria Agreement on Cultural Cooperation where we go beyond signing treaties but actually implementing them, especially in the context of women’s empowerment.”

Mrs. Reneva Fourie, President of the Diplomatic Club of Syria (DCOS), as an event partner, spoke about the activities of the DCOS and the International Women’s Month theme on breaking biases.

Interlocking arms with the Philippines in an “ASEAN-style” handshake onstage, ten other countries joined the #WomenMakeChange-themed festival, namely, Syria, Argentina, Belarus, Chile, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Palestine, South Africa, and Venezuela. This was followed by an Awarding Ceremony where Plaques of Appreciation where presented by the Minister of Culture to the participating countries, DCOS, and the National Film Organization of Syria.

“Ang Babae sa Likod ng Mambabatok,” an award-winning documentary from the Philippines, directed by Lauren Sevilla Faustino, was selected as the Opening Film, through the Philippine Embassy Assistance Program of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP). This was described as a “social realist eye-opener” by the Syrian viewers who also heard of Apo Whang-Od, the 105-year-old Kalinga tattoo artist, through vloggers.

In the morning of 23rd and 24th of March 2022, children shouted with glee during the familyfriendly Pakistani films entitled “Parwaaz Hai Junoon (Passion for Flying)” and “Superstar,” while diplomatic and Ministry officials also delivered speeches thanking the Philippine Embassy for organizing the festival.

On Thursday, 24 March 2022, the South African Embassy sponsored the “Content is Queen” Film Makers Workshop featuring Ms. Tshepiso Phiri, a producer from South Africa. It was a thought leadership exercise for Cinema Institute students under the tutelage of Dean Basil Al Khatib, the world-renowned Director of “Mariam,” the official festival entry of Syria. DCOS sponsored the coffeebreak in between films.

Philippine Honorary Consul General Wassim Nanaa of Aleppo PCG also entertained the guests during the film festival, together with the staff of the Philippine Embassy.

Alternately laughing, crying, and thinking deeply, the audience enjoyed the following awardwinning films at the Damascus Opera House for free:

PHILIPPINES: “Sakaling Hindi Makarating (In Case They Don’t Arrive)” by Director Ice Idanan; “Lola Loleng (Grandmother Loleng)” by Director Che Tagyamon. All films from the Philippines were provided by the FDCP. A Message from FDCP Chair Mary Liza B. Diño and the film directors were presented to the international audience.

ARGENTINA: “Como Corre Elisa (How Elisa Runs)” by Directors Andrés Arbit and Gustavo Gersberg. BELARUS: “Daughter of Pripyat.” CHILE: “Teresa” by Director Tatiana Gaviola. INDIA: “The Women in Blue Berets” by Director Farida Pacha. INDONESIA: “Mimpi Ananda Raih Semesta (Ananda’s Dream to Reach the Universe)” by Director Sahrul Gibran. PALESTINE: تایدایر تارداق نم طسلف) Capable Entrepreneurs) directed by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. SOUTH AFRICA: “Bhai’s Café” by Director Maynard Kraak and “Murder in Paris” by Director Enver Samuel. VENEZUELA: La Casa del Fin De Los Tiempos (The House at End of Time) by Director Alejandro Hidalgo.

The film festival was lauded as one of the most successful Embassy-led events in Syria and promoted a positive image of the Philippines as an arts and culture powerhouse. The replay of the Opening Reception can be viewed via Facebook Live on YouTube videos of Arabic news features are also available online.