‘I only had a moment there. When I opened my eyes, I was swept away.’
Born in Damascus, Syria, Mohamad Hafez came to the United States on a single entry visa to study architecture, but found himself stuck in the country following the 9/11 attacks. His prospects of returning home dimmed even further when Syria descended into civil war roughly a decade later, forcing his family to flee the destruction and violence, and leaving Hafez to face the possibility of military conscription if he were to return. As the Damascus of his childhood slipped further and further away, Hafez began to experience ‘hiraeth’ – a Welsh word describing ‘a state of extreme homesickness to a homeland that is no longer existent or has never, ever existed’.
One of the most acclaimed short documentaries in recent memory, A Broken House (2020) is both an artist portrait and a refugee narrative – two familiar topics for the form. But through Hafez’s story, the US director Jimmy Goldblum crafts a distinctive, moving and cinematically accomplished work. Focusing on the miniature sculptures Hafez crafted to recreate the Damascus of his childhood, and then began to break and cover with ash when war engulfed the city, Goldblum provokes viewers living in relative safety to consider how they empathise with those living with and displaced by war. And with his intimate access to Hafez’s personal story, he draws out something immediate and universal as well – a contemplation of the sometimes unbridgeable distance between home and where we find ourselves.
Director: Jimmy Goldblum
Producers: Matt Weaver, Richard Gephardt, Harrison Nalevansky