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“Zyara”, The Mesmerizing Award-winning Web Docuseries Your Soul Needs Now!

By Sami Basbous Zyara is an Arabic word meaning “visit” or “meeting”. Muriel Aboulrouss and Denise Jabbour are the Lebanese directors and producers of Zyara. Through five-minute video clips, people...

By Sami Basbous

Zyara is an Arabic word meaning “visit” or “meeting”. Muriel Aboulrouss and Denise Jabbour are the Lebanese directors and producers of Zyara. Through five-minute video clips, people of all faiths, social backgrounds, sexual orientations, and economic conditions tell us about their painful journey and how they got through it.  They present their case (parental rejection, abuse, a broken future, an addiction, a handicap, and exile...)

Every Zyara is a work of art, a poem, and a haunting: a hypnotic experience. A veiled stranger seems to visit you in an atmospheric haze. You make room as they tell their story, sometimes in fragmented details irrespective of continuity, a dream you watch and hear. The visit appears to be mutual. It seems to exist outside of space and time. You are both liberated from subjectivity. A face transpires gradually out of an abyss, or a cloud, emerging from a trauma, relegating nothing to oblivion. You are witnessing a passage to light, an offering of transcendence to ascendance. You, the host, are allowed to witness an unraveling, an emancipation from the inner depth of a guest you gradually perceive as a friend, a relative, a sister, a brother, a mother, a father, a lover; You! Zyara is that powerful of an experience. The emotional journeys are authentic, cinematic, soulful, lyrical, devoid of sensationalism, superficiality, and self-pity. They move us and reconnect us with our humanity.

Denise and Muriel’s approach is simple: they pay a visit to a person they have either spotted, was recommended to them, or has suggested themselves. The person will share their story, a testimony about a painful or traumatic journey, how they got through the ordeal, and the lessons they learned from it.  

 Muriel loses and finds herself in their host’s place, absorbing the images around her and deciding on camera angles and shots. She films elements that will enrich the story, especially what the interviewee particularly likes, be it a painting or a window’s view to a garden or barrenness, which most resembles the character.  “I become completely immersed in the atmosphere, and beyond the informative or representative aspect, I intuitively film all the images that represent and personalize our guests. As if my camera is within my body, my heart, with emotion, poetry, tenderness, love, and light... Which I cannot express in words but which will reflect the spirit of the episode.”

Denise starts a conversation with the host, “I always begin with mundane questions then gradually go deeper, listening to the aspects of the subject matter that feel important. Trust is established, and a story is told. As the confession becomes more intimate and often intense, I become one with my interlocutor's feelings, speaking to them heart to heart. They are heroes, and we protect our heroes; no manipulation or exploitation...”

The interview ends after 60 minutes. Questions from the film crew are then welcome since everyone works in the same spirit and knows what the process wants to get out of their “hero” and why they chose him, her, or them. Lastly, a meal is shared. 

“It’s a collaborative work of creation. No one has exclusivity on a parameter.”  

 Zyara was born in 2014. Determined to be the co-editors of their lives, the young women got off the beaten and marked commercial paths. With the little they had, they chose to self-finance their vision and give the floor to those willing to share their courage and demonstrate their resilience. Their first episodes had a strong impact, pushing the filmmakers and their team (family), to persevere, and prevail. They have since received no less than 45 international awards, only to be recognized by their country with a 46th in 2023. Zyara’s labor of love is a rare and dignified one in Lebanon, or the SWANA world for that matter, producing unapologetic stories of resistance and positivity, always portraying authentic feelings with the aim of helping others in their own healing and empathy for each other, promoting beauty, openness, and oneness to kindly evolve in our collective humanity. We watch, stirred by these mini-films that consider destinies foreign to us but come to seek us out with their universalism. Their slogan is “Life is a short Zyara.” Nothing brief or basic in that sentence but an openness and a promise.

“Besides YouTube and Zyara’s official website, Muriel and Denise screen their episodes in makeshift and proper theatres locally and internationally, “People are touched, enthused, and eager to tell us about their lives and experiences. But the screenings we do in Lebanese schools are the most heartening. We witness children stand up by their own free will, identify themselves as bullies, and remorsefully confess their abuse toward their comrades, who, in turn, hug and forgive them. Children need to know that adults tell them true things, that it is okay to be vulnerable, and that we can turn it into strength. We want to show that we can remain honest about our emotions, not be ashamed of them.”

The filmmakers show us that trauma travels through families and communities. Many prefer to avoid the curse, the pain, the shame, and the guilt and shield themselves in denial until someone is born to feel and experience the emotions. And the ones who do are the remarkable ones. They’re our guides, teachers, angels, and the healers of humanity. They heal the pain others refuse to feel. There is no formulation of philosophical systems in experiencing a person in their most authentic and vulnerable state. The short movies effortlessly allay skeptical minds and quiet judgemental intentions. You lose analytical systems of thought within moments of wisdom, grace, sorrow, grief, and unspeakable pain.

“Zyara was a rebirth for both of us, an experience that changed us whole,” Denise and Muriel explain, “there was a time when we found no hope in living in Lebanon. A paradise that keeps revisiting hell, a so-called democracy ruled by a corrupt elite and a censoring party of God that declares war on the LGBTQA+ community. But we found Lebanon’s amazing heart through its sensible people. We have aligned our hearts with the harmony and vibration of one of Earth's most creative and resilient people.” A statement that reflects the message and the secret of the episodes of “Zyara”: finding your unique strength and magic, healing, and being at peace with yourself.

Asked what one can offer to the Palestinians today and how to deal with the trauma most of us are experiencing through their suffering, Muriel and Denise complete each other’s sentences, saying, “Watching these images is so difficult, and we cannot keep quiet. Sometimes people don't wake up before life hits them hard, and the world is going to be hit harder on multiple levels. The devils have shown their faces shamelessly. It is time to wake up speak, post, demonstrate, sign petitions, any peaceful act opposing this genocide is worthy. I believe the Palestinian children are carrying on their shoulders the responsibility to wake the world up, like the Armenians, the Sudanese, the Congolese... The souls of these babies and children volunteered to visit Earth and suffer in order to awaken us to our humanity.”

A voice bares its soul, a stranger reveals a scarring, a visitor recounts a devastating story with raw emotions that choke the throat. You realize that silencing your inherent humanity toward your suffering fellow brother and sister is a violent act of self-oppression.

 

You can watch all of Zyara’s eight seasonal episodes on YouTube or their website: https://homeofcinejam.com/

Every episode is worth watching; here’s six:

https://youtu.be/0PROldpZLE4?feature=shared

https://youtu.be/rc6UyhHDwa8?feature=shared

https://youtu.be/Nb2SKIJrOqQ?feature=shared

https://youtu.be/s1MtU0AO8M8?feature=shared

https://youtu.be/zAkZo3oqiA0?feature=shared

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbN0J3YTplg

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