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Amal Ramsis on ‘You Come from Far Away’ & The Erasure of Arabian and Negro Roots

May 6, 2019

In the film, You Come from Far Away, Egyptian Filmmaker Amal Ramsis tells the story of a family who was separated for decades because of the Spanish Civil War led by General Francisco Franco in 1936. The story of the Arabs that volunteered in this war has never been documented. This destroying of the family shows the omission of Arabian roots and its correlations with Black American roots. 

AR: Dulia, the eldest daughter in the film passed away six months after the shooting of the film.

ATM: Wait, she did get to see it? Right?

AR: No, she did not.

ATM: There is a lot of faulty behavior in education all around the world. This is not just in the American society, but also in Egypt. No one has any historical memory of Arabs fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Because of you now people realize it and know the truth of your culture. They can get the history that has gotten deleted. The omission of history hurts the next generation and the current society.

AR: The problem is that if we talk about history the production market is not interested. It is like we should not talk about history. I received comments saying, “This is about history. We are not interested in putting money into history.” This is not even about history. It is about the current moment and situation that we live in. It is seeing the mirror of history. From my point of view, history is not hidden, but it is told in different ways and shapes and faces. It has a very big political position. Archival material is very expensive. For example, the one-minute costs 1,500 euros. If the archive is not ours, then we do not have the image of what happened in the past. It is as if we cannot talk about it. I tried to deal with this image with the little archive I had.

ATM: The fascist Franco was a big part of the Spanish Civil War. Some people might not be aware of his negative contribution to your culture. Italian Benito Mussolini was the founder of the Fascist Movement. He wrote a book called The Doctrine of Fascism in which outlines his viewpoints in the development of fascism. German Adolf Hitler was inspired and copied from his strategies as stated in his book Mein Kampf. The previous President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt kept in close contact with Mussolini. He insisted America stay neutral in the Spanish Civil War. But some American soldiers did go as volunteers to fight.

AR: See there are much more books about Americans fighting the Spanish Civil War. Fascism is not our past. We live in a very sad world. Fascism is much stronger now. We do not tell it in the old ways of fascism, but you see in the United States and other worlds. You see there is a very big movement of fascism. It is in the way if we do not think in a certain way or learn about the history, then it is repeated.

ATM: It is all repetition. The older the world gets there seems to be an urgency of power and control. If you do not think of the normal standard, then you are an outcasted and treated in horrendous ways. This is how the climate despite the rules of society. The fascism elements sneak up the titles given to make it look like things are changing when it is not. A society’s government could depict themselves as a democracy, but, feel like a fascism climate. So, it would not feel like a democracy. If you are not educated enough, then you will not see it vivid enough.

AR: Right. It is not a democracy. It is a manipulation of people and an elimination of others in all parts of the world. It is about the one who has the power. We as the people do not have the power. The person with the most power can control. We call it different, but we still have fascism. Before we had Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler. It is clearer now. This is why it was not easy to make a movie. It needed a lot of truth and analyzing. I did not want to make a film in a superficial way. I wanted to make something you can think it more and more as you watch the film.

When making films, I am not trying to make women a strong part of the film. I never think in this way. I do not see the other side. I do not see women as victims. It is not the purpose of trying to find some other image. We do not have a lot of powerful women who can tell the history. She is not a hero, but she is a strong woman. She fought for her life. She is independent. She was aware of the history. She was able to forgive and understand that she is not a victim of any circumstance. This is a war that should be defended. She was the one that was put in this circumstance.

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ATM: The narrative and stereotype for women is playing the victim. Cultures do not believe there is a such thing of women coming out of this narrow-minded thinking. It is expected for women to talk about romance, love, emotions, intimacy, and relationships. It is expected for men to discuss war, violence, and crimes. But when a woman associates with this genre or topic people look away. The women in Cairo could be viewed as different from how they represent their culture and heritage.

AR: Yes. I am also interested not only about the women in this story but also the war. It is a narrow point of view that we should only make films about our own issues. If the men have the right to make any films and about women issues, then why women do not have the same right. The Lebanese women filmmakers are realizing the history of Lebanon. They are talking about the war and the women.

ATM: Jerusalem is a very holy city. It has a lot of long-lasting elements in a lot of religions and cultures. This is also the birthplace of Dulia’s father Najati Sidki. There are a few points made about the origins of how he was born and lived his life her before growing up to fight against Franco in 1936.

AR: Yes, he was born in Jerusalem. He knew his wife in Jerusalem. She came with the first Jewish organization there. The daughter was moved to Moscow at three years old. She spent all of her life there. She wanted to go back. They have the same religion and culture. Even though all of them were separated, I discovered they all had the same feeling in Jerusalem. All of them went back to their origin and hometown. It is human. She needs to go back to the place. This is the same as the brother. One of them lived in Athens.

ATM: The African American Holocaust being deleted and completely not talked about is the same as for your culture with Arabs stories not being told about them fighting for the future of Europeans. My race went through a massive holocaust and no one talks about it. It is almost taboo in my race, and on my American soil. This hurts the culture. This hurts a race. This hurts the people who sacrificed in both horrendous events. I just coined it, American Negroian, which should be the new name for my race in America.

Their stories are forgotten and told by white people who are not even us. I just want to find the truth and I have found it. When getting enriched about the history and researching your source of changing and perspective everything changes. You get to see the redlines and lies. But there are people who will never know the truth. There are people who died never knowing the truth. There are people afraid to know the truth.

AR: I knew about it, but the history did not talk about Arabs. It is my room to talk about the people to change the rule. My father is one of these people. My father did not go to Spain or in any of these stories, but my father was a communist. He was honest with himself. I am also connected emotionally with these kinds of people who saw the future in a different way and fought for the ideals. If I could accept the people in the film, then it would be one step close to revealing this kind of unknown historical text. I was looking for this kind of text. I wanted to learn more about this. This is saving our culture, but not one story is going to save it. My film and much more films will save it. We need to save our own culture.

ATM: There are African American prehistoric remains in Egypt, but this is not taught. This is of my people who share melanin with me. The narrative that is served in education and in general in that there are not people of my race in Cairo, Egypt or Egypt. We are taught there are people not of our race where you live and where you are from. The museums erase our origins and history. I just thought you should be aware of what is being taught about your city and country Cairo, Egypt to Americans. All lies.

AR: Interesting. This also happens in Egypt, but also in our world. The ideas that are hidden in the media and film has nothing to do with reality. This is even about the story, history, and the political situation and activist. It was born like this. The continuation of the fascism is related to this.

ATM: Fascism never left.

AR: Right. It is necessary to connect our stories with noble stories. Our stories are connected, and we should tell it. We need to see it in this way. Otherwise, we will stay so pragmatic and separated. We do not know the information we need to know. We have many common interested in other countries, but it is said that we are against each other.

We are not. They make it look like we are against each other so they can control us more. This is what I was trying to tell in my story. There is another way of thinking in this international society. We should think about the future is not only our part of the world but all. This is also about the globalization of poor people. 

ATM: It is 1:34 pm, New York EST

AR: It is 8:34 pm, Istanbul, Turkey

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