“Dounia and the Princess of Aleppo”: War, refugees, etc., yes, we can tell children everything

“Dounia and the Princess of Aleppo: War, Refugees, etc., yes, we can tell the children everything


Marya Zarif, creator of the adorable little Dounia and co-director of the animated film Dounia and the Princess of Aleppo< strong>, does not hesitate to address the serious subject of Syrian children, victims of the war in their country. 

“War exists, but so do small miracles,” she said during a meeting with QMI Agency. With her voice as melodious as Dounia's, Marya Zarif looks back on the genesis of the animated film.

“Dounia was born because I was trying to draw a little character full of life, fiery, of joy and appetite, especially compared to the pain that I was going through and that the Syrian people were going through for years,” she says.

“At that time, there were a lot of media images of Syrian children in distress, lost, dead at the water's edge like little Aylan… These images circulated and became the symbols of this generation which experienced this horror. And I am one of those who struggle with these images because they do not do justice to the vast majority of the Syrian people who are resilient, strong, full of life and appetite.”

Dounia (voiced by Rahaf Ataya), whose father is in prison, lives with her grandparents (the grandmother is voiced by Elsa Mardirossian and the grandfather by Manuel Tadros). After the destruction of the family home, the family takes the path of exile before finding that of Quebec.

“Maybe Dounia is more me than I want to admit. I didn't do a self-portrait, it's not my story per se – I didn't spend my childhood in the war. It's the story of people I love and it's a story close to me. It's probably me without realizing it, it's probably the living flame of eternal childhood that there is in me, ”continues Marya Zarif.

The animated film incredible poetry abounds with a multitude of sensory details that will delight the audience. Dounia's grandmother makes rose jam, cheese, takes spices in her suitcase. Music accompanies many scenes, including several with the goddess Ishtar helping Dounia and her family.

As the filmmaker explains, “the naivety of the subject is assumed. It is a war that is so terrible, so catastrophic, that has challenged so many things inside all of us Syrians that something dark had to be crossed. With the earthquake, the Syrian people could not have more misfortunes than that, especially after 40 years of dictatorship. If we assume the darkness of life, as Dounia does, we must assume the very light and the very luminous of life.”

One might be surprised at the seriousness of the subject in a film that is aimed at children. For Marya Zarif, it is only natural.

“We can say everything and we must say everything to the children. But we have to go through what we have been able to do since the dawn of time: the work of storytellers. It's the job of people who tell stories, it's to work on my own emotion in relation to something in order to be able to transmit it to the child with the right images and the right metaphors.”

Dounia and the Princess of Aleppo opens on April 28.