GSFF review: Isle Of Us

Scottish Competition 2
(A World to Win)

Courtesy of GSFF

One wouldn’t expect to find a Syrian barber on such a tiny island as the Scottish Isle of Bute. With its 8000 inhabitants, surrounded by rough sea and whipped by strong winds, this isn’t a primary destination of refugees who seek to build a new life somewhere in the UK. And yet, there it is – “Orient Salon” owned by Mounzer Al Darsani, a man who left his hometown Al-Zabadani 5 years ago to escape the horrors of war.

Isle of Us is a fitting title for a film that shows a warm, welcoming islander community. Mounzer’s barbershop never runs out of customers, and the man is liked by kids and grown-ups alike. He has obviously lived to his father’s advice to “build a house wherever he goes” and find friends and his “second family” in whichever country he lands in. But nothing is as simple as it looks like. Life back home is constantly on Mounzer’s mind, and a wish to return once the situation normalizes. Another thought is constantly present in his head – a potential assimilation of his children, and with it the loss of Syrian identity.

When speaking about himself, Mounzer is restrained. The word refugee makes him feel like he is less, he says, adding that being a refugee has become something disgraceful. That sentence will echo in one’s mind for a very long time. The brutality of it. The incredible cynicism of our European democracies who are fortifying their borders with higher and higher walls.

Videotapes from Mounzer’s childhood have also found their way to Scotland, and they complete the man’s attempts to tell something about his past. Most of the recordings are of poor quality, but the atmosphere of a care-free past on the streets of Al-Zabadani can be felt and partially seen, like four women in summer dresses dancing on a town square, or children playing with their parents on the playground.

There is a feeling of a puzzle piece missing from the complete picture. Mounzer stays strangely distant, also in moments of more personal confessions. He doesn’t seem to feel at ease in front of the camera, so it’s mostly his customers doing all the talking.

Isle of Us is Laura Wadha’s NFTS (the National Film and Television School) graduation film. The film which world- premiered at Sheffield Doc/Fest and was nominated for an International Documentary Association Award, is screened in the Scottish Competition of Glasgow Short Film Festival.

Country: UK
Language: Arabic, English
Year: 2020
Runtime: 17′
Produced/ Written/ Directed by: Laura Wadha
Cinematographer: Laura Wadha
Sound Design: Ruth Knight
Music by: Harry Brokensha
Colourist: Michael Pearce
Production Design: Priya Sidhu
Production Coordinator: Beatriz Honorio