The whirring sound of propellers indicates helicopters flying through the air, while bass drone notes are accompanied by large explosions and rapid-fire shootings. These are the daily sounds experience by a young Syrian man named Omar each morning as he prepares for another day in his country amidst a long enduring war, sounds manifested by Andree Lin for the film Qafas. As the sound designer, she created the entire soundscape for wartime Syria presented in this film, in addition to being the production sound mixer, Foley mixer, and re-recording mixer. Qafas is a remarkable film which has been lauded at over a dozen film festivals including the Austin Film Festival, Woods Hole Film Festival, and La Femme Film Festival. Andree’s skill allowed audiences to become immersed completely in the war-torn city of Aleppo and resulted in her receiving the award for Best Sound Design at New York Film Awards.
The power of film is that it allows us to see through the eyes of others rather than only our own. Qafas leverages this power to relate the horrifying experience so many Syrians have endured in years of war. This film uses the life of Omar, 18, and his immediate family to illustrate the chaotic and surreal existence of the residents of Aleppo. Omar, his younger brother Samir, and parents Amira and Nabil struggle for a sense of normalcy with family dinners and birthdays while they are surrounded by gunfire and bomb detonations. This family struggles with the notions of leaving the only home they’ve ever known and the potentially deadly scenarios a journey from Syria might bring.
It’s impossible to divorce the emotional state of the characters in this story from the chaotic sounds in which they find themselves immersed. To truly present the reality of the setting, Andree adopted a documentary approach to the sounds of this film. She viewed and dissected the films Last Men in Aleppo (2017) and The White Helmets (2016) to calibrate her design for the sonic atmosphere of Qafas. Swapping (via her Foley) the recorded footsteps from the wooden floor set with those of more commonly used concrete or tile floors of Syria, inserting the sounds of vehicles found in the region, adding low-end explosive rumbles to foreshadow upcoming conflicts, Andree’s staunch adherence to assembling a true sonic presence of Syria is remarkable in cementing the believability of this war-torn region. In actuality, the film was shot in Southern California.
Qafas director Dayna Li requested Andree Lin for this film because of her talent but also due to their shared vision of telling stories to which the mainstream media does not always offer the proper coverage and attention. Andree expounds, “The conflict in Syria is one of the largest humanitarian disasters in this century, and many people in the West are largely unaware of its disastrous effects. It has propelled the global refugee crisis, leading to a pivotal discussion in Western states about borders. There are few high-budget films that tell the stories of Syrian refugees, so it is important to be telling their stories at all levels. The story focuses on a dilemma that the majority of families in Syria have experienced: whether to stay in their country or leave. Many of the films on Syria are about refugees once they have already left their home and are in refugee camps, but Qafas focuses on a family’s story when they initially begin to experience war and face the conflict about whether they should leave their home. Many Arabs are portrayed in a negative light or are one-dimensional in Western film and television, and this story aims to portray them in a more positive light and show the complexity of the struggles they are faced with.”
Writer: Coleman Haan