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What's Past Is Prologue

Midway through the 47-minute video We will live to see these things, or, five pictures of what may come to pass, Syrian dissident-intellectual Yassin Haj Saleh distinguishes between the solace felt by those whose faith is based in religion and the faith that he, a nonreligious man, derives from “the experience of struggle against totalitarianism” and “the experience of saving a human space inside the conscience or the heart of every one of us.” It’s a moment of clarity that grounds the rest of this enigmatic portrait of Damascus, based on time spent there in 2005 by Los Angeles-based artists Julia Meltzer and David Thorne, a.k.a. The Speculative Archive. The documentary has five segments, each reflecting indirectly on possible futures. One section ponders the notion of a perfect leader by pairing images of boys in an equestrian competition with the voice of an older man reciting a litany of characteristics describing said leader, which are also reflected by one of the boys. The combination of video and sound elliptically suggests the making of history through will, concatenation and ritualized performance. Another segment takes us inside a Qur’an school, where we watch children memorizing passages from prayer books. While viewers may want to judge these images, or grasp a thorough understanding of Syrian culture, the project instead offers poetic observation, while Saleh’s interview adds a sense of the ethical imperative to reckon with the Arab world with care and an allowance for its complexity. The screening will be preceded by Meltzer and Thorne’s 2006 video not a matter of if but when: brief records of a time in which expectations were repeatedly raised and lowered and people grew exhausted from never knowing if the moment was at hand or still to come, also a Los Angeles premiere. (REDCAT; Mon., Nov. 12, 8 p.m. 213-237-2800. www.redcat.org)

—Holly Willis


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