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The Dream Of Shahrazad

If revolution starts as fantasy, what does it end with?

THE DREAM OF SHAHRAZAD is a feature-length documentary film which locates recent political events in the Maghreb and Middle East within a broader historical and cultural legacy: that of the famous collection of stories known as THE 1001 (or “ARABIAN”) NIGHTS.

Using the metaphor of Shahrazad – the princess in the NIGHTS who saves lives by telling stories to the murderous Sultan Shahriyar – and filmed before, during and after the so-called “Arab Spring”, it weaves together a web of music, politics and storytelling to explore the ways in which creativity and political articulation coincide in response to oppression. A series of unforgettable characters all draw their inspiration from the NIGHTS and, like Shahrazad, put creativity to new political use…

A charismatic conductor uses Rimsky-Korsakov’s SCHEHERAZADE suite as a tool for political education, leading up to a final performance at Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace – and, in time, to the Gezi Park protests of 2013. A young Lebanese woman makes peace with her past by learning the art of storytelling in Egypt and becomes an internet activist in the process. An older visual artist who is obsessed with THE NIGHTS finds his “dream of Shahrazad” manifesting through the appearance of a beautiful young storyteller. An Alexandrian storyteller joins forces with a Cairo theatre troupe, meeting with the mothers of martyrs of the January 25 Revolution and turning their testimonies into new storytelling performances…

Three years after 2011, Egypt seems however to have come full circle: a country violently torn between military control and Islamism, with even leftists calling for the return of Mubarak-style repression. If the idealism of revolution is a fantasy, what is the real value of stories in inspiring a better world? Or
is art intrinsically wiser than the good and evil dimensions we attribute to it?

This richly kaleidoscopic film is at once observational documentary, concert film, political meditation and visual translation of an ever-popular symphonic and literary classic. It is a documentary homage both to THE NIGHTS and the SCHEHERAZADE suite, as well as a rethinking of the ways in which powerful historical and cultural archetypes interact with political change.

Best Work in Progress Award, Sunny Side of the Doc 2012

Director: Francois Verster
Producer: Neil Brandt / Fireworx Media