August 19th, 2008
Iraqi Exodus
Production Diary I: Welcome to Syria

Filmmaker Tania Rahkmanova writes on location in Syria during the filming of Iraqi Exodus.

May 31, 2008: If a night at the theater begins with checking your coat in the cloakroom, then a documentary film shoot begins with passing border patrol.

At 10 p.m., I landed in the Damascus airport from Paris. The airport is rather small and our flight from Paris is the only one passing the border control.

Though my tourist visa is still valid, I was told by the Syrian Embassy that I needed a special one for my shoot. Before I left France, the Syrian Ministry of Information provided me with a letter to confirm that the “extension” of my already valid passport would be issued when I arrive in Syria.

I went directly to the officer at the border to show him the letter and my passport. He gives me a hearty grin and stamps my passport, but is perplexed by the letter. In five minutes I am surrounded by immigration officers, who are all looking at my visa and the letter (which is written in English). They don’t seem to understand, nor are they interested that I’m a journalist. Perhaps they don’t see journalists often.

I can’t do much here, so I take my passport and with great relief, I enter into Syria.

I was often told that Syrian security system and military were trained by the Russians. I don’t know. I can hardly imagine a Russian military smiling to a foreign journalist bidding him, “Welcome to Russia.” If I tried to argue with the Russian security at the border I would be escorted into their office, searched and questioned and then probably let into the country. Here in Damascus the rules are strict but people are very nice and welcoming.

The next day at the Information Ministry they reassured me that my visa is not a problem, I can make my film as long as I have permission to film and one of their employees accompanies me during the shoot.

Tania Rahkmanova has made dozens of documentary films on historical and political themes. Iraqi Exodus is her second WIDE ANGLE film — the first was the award-winning Greetings from Grozny. She holds a Ph.D. in applied statistics and has worked as a print and documentary journalist.

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