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Italian film director screens interfaith documentary on Syrian war

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Italian film director screens interfaith documentary on Syrian war

By Lay Centre staff

ROME — A film with an interreligious perspective on the plight of Syrian refugees, screened at The Lay Centre this past spring, is making its rounds of the festival circuit. Its next screening, August 24, will be at the popular Rimini Meeting organized by the Catholic Communion and Liberation Movement in the Italian resort town of Rimini on the Adriatic coast.

Well-respected Italian documentary filmmaker Dr Maria Luisa Forenza screened her documentary, “Mother Fortress: A Love Story,” at The Lay Centre in April. She had previously screened it at the “Tertio Millennio Film Fest” in Rome, among other sites. 

This 78-minute film tells the story of Mother Abbess Agnes of St James Monastery in Syria, located on the border with Lebanon, who, together with other nuns from different countries, brings hope to the Syrian people, who live in a condition of deep suffering due to the war that has been raging since 2011. Although the monastery is still a target for terrorist attacks, love of neighbour continues to be the last word: widows, orphans, and entire families are supported by these nuns. 

Shot in three countries, the documentary does not focus on the war per se, but on the human condition in times of war. It is this particular feature that makes this video so moving and important.

Dr Forenza told her audience at The Lay Centre that her interest in the situation in Syria started by chance. 

“I was in San Francisco, California, for my work and I received an invitation by a Lebanese priest to attend a conference with a nun who came to give witness to the experience in her monastery. This was back in 2013,” she said. 

Dr Forenza, who had already directed other documentaries about war, was moved by this woman’s testimony and felt this story was special. 

“I decided to go there and I took a first look in 2014, between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I realized that it clearly was an atypical war,” she said. 

“I thought that the only thing for which we could really provide documentary evidence was the ability of Syrian people — not only of religious men and women — to react to the tragedy and to gratuitous violence,” she continued. “I wanted to show the spirit of Syrian religious people to go beyond sorrow and to work day after day for reconciliation between people and for the rebirth of those places.”

At the very beginning, Dr Forenza focused mainly on portraying the Christian reaction to the war; by the end, she had done much more. 

“It actually ended up being not only a way to show reactions by Christians, but by Sunni Muslims, too,” she said. “This was an important experience: the kindness of charity and the possibility of forgiveness go beyond one’s own religious belief are part of the human growth each human being can experience.”

“I perceived an energy of rebirth among Syrians of all faiths and I tried to describe it,” she continued. “Syrians are there and they want to rebuild their country, although many of them have been forced to emigrate.”

“Mother Fortress: A Love Story” will be screened at the Rimini Meeting Aug. 24 at 2 p.m., in the Arena Percorsi A2. The filmmaker will be present. For more information on the Rimini Meeting, go to: https://www.meetingrimini.org.

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