Our Terrible Country
Sinan Antoon & Mohammad Ali Atassi

Conversation Documentation
Friday, February 13, 2015

Syrian journalist and filmmaker Mohammad Ali Atassi introduces his 2014 documentary Our Terrible Country, produced with photographer Ziad Homsi. This vital and insightful film addresses the stages of the Syrian revolution through the figure of Yassin Haj Saleh, a celebrated intellectual and dissident. Following the screening of Our Terrible Country, Mohammad Ali Atassi will be in conversation with Iraqi poet, novelist and scholar Sinan Antoon.

Our Terrible Country developed as a portrait of Haj Saleh after he and his wife, activist Samira Khalil, fled from Damascus to Douma in 2013, a liberated city under siege from pro-Assad forces where Homsi was based. As a strong bond forms between Homsi and Haj Saleh, representing two distinct generations of political and intellectual dissidence in the country, the film becomes a depiction of their beliefs, hopes and helplessness as they together make the dangerous journey first to Raqqa, the Syrian city under the control of ISIS where members of Haj Saleh's family are based, and then into exile in Turkey.

Filmed over a year in Syria and Turkey, the film highlights the progression of the Syrian Revolution, from its pacifist beginnings to its militarization, the bombardment and destruction of cities by the Syrian regime, and the emergence of extremist Islamist currents and their quest to take hold of the revolution. It is also a compellingly direct view into the lives of those struggling to hold onto a political position within an unrelenting and devastating conflict.


Sinan Antoon is an Iraqi-born poet, novelist, translator, and filmmaker, and Associate Professor at the Gallatin School at New York University. He is the author of a number of books, including the poetry collection, The Baghdad Blues, and the novel, l’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody, as well as scholarly publications on the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, Sargon Boulus, and contemporary Iraqi culture. Antoon returned to Baghdad in 2003 as a member of InCounter Productions to co-direct a documentary, About Baghdad, on the lives of Iraqis in a post-Saddam-occupied Iraq.

Mohammad Ali Atassi is a Syrian journalist, documentary filmmaker, and human rights activist currently living in Beirut. After receiving a DEA in history at Sorbonne Paris IV, Atassi returned to Syria and, since 2000, has been writing for several Arab and international newspapers on dissidents and human rights violations in his country. Atassi’s previous documentaries include Ibn al Am (2001), about the Syrian dissident Riad al-Turk, and Waiting for Abu Zaid (2010), about the Egyptian religious scholar. Our Terrible Country, co- directed with Ziad Homsi, won the Grand Prize of the International Competition at the Marseille Festival of Documentary Film in 2014.

Ziad Homsi is a Syrian photojournalist, documentary filmmaker, and human rights activist. His photographs have been shown in various exhibitions across Europe. In 2012, Homsi directed a short documentary, Oh Douma, on the security crackdown and massacres inflicted on the residents of the city of Douma by Syrian security forces. He has been actively involved in militant actions during the Syrian Civil War. Homsi was kidnapped by ISIS forces while returning to the Damascus suburbs from Turkey in October 2013; he was released after a month of captivity.