ﻣﺎ ﺇﺳﻤﻚ

MAESMAK (Italy-Greece, 2008)

A short tale by Georges Salameh

Watch trailer here: maesmak

Experimental – Documentary

duration 20’20”


Maesmak is What’s your name? in Arabic.

Maesmak is a meditative exploration of one day spent in Rutba in late 2002, to plant an olive tree against the war, just before the invasion of Iraq.
Maesmak is also a metaphor about cancer, a disease consuming and invading the body of a dictatorship. Its main victims though are the ones without a name in the books of History.

Narration & Voice Over

Yousif Latif Jaralla – storyteller

Pantelis Anaghnostopoulos – traveler

William Odling-Smee – doctor


Georges Salameh - Marina Gioti – Alexandros Salameh


Theofanis Avraam  Victoria Taskou  Voltnoi Brege – Muslimgauze


Laura Sestito

Production – Distribution



Previous screening (selected)

Alternativa Film&Video Festival 2008 (Competition) – Belgrade – Serbia – (December 2008)

Punto De Vista Documentary Film Festival (Competition) – Pamplona – Spain (February 2009)

Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival (Market) – Greece (March 2009)

LIDF09 London International Documentary Festival (Competition) – London – UK (April 2009)

Hotdocs Canadian International Documentary Festival (Market) – Canada (April 2009)

Cine Pobre – 7th International No-Budget – Low-Budget Film Festival (Competition) – La Paz – Mexico (May 2009)

VIDEOEX International Experimental Film & Video Festival (Competition) – Zurich – Switzerland (May 2009)

2 ANNAS Independent international Short Film Festival (Competition) – Riga – Latvia (May 2009)

Curt.doc Short Documentary Festival (Competition) – Vidreres – Spain (June 2009)

Signes de Nuits Festival Internationale de Création Visuelle (Competition) – Paris – France (June 2009)

SoleLuna Festival Un Ponte tra le Culture (Italian Premiére – Special Event) – Palermo – Italy (July 2009)

Busho Short Film Festival (Parallel Screenings) – Budapest – Hungary (September 2009)

Luksuz Film Festival (Competition) – Trška Gora – Slovenia (September 2009) Award: Best Experimental Film

CON-CAN Movie Festival (Competition) – Tokyo – Japan ( September 2009)
Audience Special Award

Reggio Film Festival (Open Category) – Reggio Emilia – Italy (September 2009)

Pentedattilo film festival (Competition) – Reggio Calabria – Italy (September 2009)

Docudays Beirut International Documentary Festival (Parallel Screenings) – Beirut – Lebanon (September 2009)

Aza Short Film Festival (Competition) – Thessaloniki – Greece (September 2009)

Italian Doc Screenings (Market&Library) – Trento – Italy (September 2009)

Viscult Film Festival (Competition) – Joensuu – Finland (October 2009)

Darklight Festival (Competition) – Dublin – Ireland (October 2009)

Festival du Nouveau Cinéma 38th edition (Competition) – Montréal – Canada (7-18 October 2009)

Strange Screen Experimental Film Festival (Competition)  - Momus - Thessaloniki – Greece (14-17 October)
Award: 2nd prize for Best Experimental Video

Curtocircuito Short Film Festival (Market) – Santiago De Compostela – Spain (13-16 October 2009)

Fesancor International Chilean Short Film Festival (Competition) Santiago – Chile (October 2009)

Cortopotere Short Film Festival IX Edizione (Competition) – Bergamo – Italia (October 2009)

Cinemed International Film Festival (Experimental Panorama) – Montpelier – France (November 2009)

Miradas International Festival of Documentary Cinema (Market) – Guía de Isora – Spain (November 2009)

Cork Film Festival (Free Radical Film Competition) – Cork – Irland (November 2009)

Kassel Documentary Film and Video Festival (Competition) – Kassel – Germany (November 2009)

Teheran Short Film Festival (Competition) – Teheran – Iran (November 2009)
Award: Best Documentary International Competition

 International Short Film Festival (Competition) Evora – Portugal (November 2009)

Blown Up A la recherche des élèves de Deleuze - Exhibition curated by Silvia Maglioni & Graeme Thomson – Paris – France (December 2009)

Cortintrecci organized by Reggio Film Festival – Reggio Emilia – Italy (December 2009)

Arab Film Festival (Competition) – San Fransisco & Los Angeles – U.S.A (October 2010)

Al Ard Doc Film Festival (Competition) – Cagliari – Sardegna/Italy (February 2011)

A Field Guide To Getting Lost Vol.2 Exhibition curated by Amalia Charikopoulou & Christina Dilari - Aegina _ Greece (Septmber 2019)



Remembering what is already forgotten

Set in 2002 in Rutba, Maesmak is a poetic documentary that portrays a road trip to Baghdad, a go-to-death journey experienced by a Greek traveller, an English doctor and an Iraqi story-teller. All this happens just a few weeks before the invasion of Iraq.
Far from claiming to speak on behalf of people’s experience, this documentary respects the distance between the observer (the travellers) and the observed (the Iraqis). The film’s images are in a dialogue with the travellers’ discourses, but are not subsumed by them. They delineate psychological journeys of people who feel their forthcoming death, see the inevitable, negotiate what cannot be bargained. Constituting a map of emotional process of dying on both an individual and collective level, the film keeps posing the persistent question: “maesmak?” meaning “what is your name?”
Georges Salameh made a film about remembrance of what is already forgotten, what is already erased “from the books of creation, where the name and the date of birth is not there.” He builds up a story where the voice-over splits in three different voices (of the traveller, the doctor and the story-teller), the images succeed each other outside any rational sequencing and the irrationality of death and war is what binds and holds these images together. Salameh thus manages to speak about the unspeakable: death. He gives us a testimony of what precedes death and of the death’s effects developed in its shadow. As the doctor’s voice informs us, encountering death always entails a passing through stages of anger-denial-bargaining-depression before accepting the inevitable.
The film’s images run as ruins and fragments of a pre-war world that moves in-between a black-and-white and at times colourful reality, while the music reproduces a certain sense of angst about the coming event of war and death. At times images become scratched by psychological traces, blurred by memory, or clear like mirrors that reflect and accept the forthcoming event.
The film can be experienced as one-way street: what the Greek traveller wishes to do “…leaving from the same road by which I entered Iraq” is simply not possible. The road is no longer the same and the traveller himself has changed. The image cannot be forgotten, cannot be exorcised. Maesmak ends with close ups of children’s faces – shots that compel the spectator to remember how it is to smile after giving up hope and compromising with death; how it is to have a face that owns nothing but an innocent smile.

Maesmak? What is your name?

“Let us meet at the end of the day and let’s see if the books of creation have my name and date of birth”(an Iraqi child).
Knowing his coming erasure (his state of no-name, no-body) the only thing the child possesses is his capacity to smile: a living proof of his humanity before he vanishes into a total of all numbers of war victims.
After this screening the spectator cannot but remember ‘Maesmak’ as the name that will have been forgotten, since the film reminds him/her of the ethical ‘duty’ to pay homage to this imposed oblivion of the erasure of singular lives in wartimes. A remembering that takes place not through the lines of a written history, but though the visual forces of Maesmak.

Dr Chrysanthi Nigianni
Visiting Lecturer in Sociology, University of East London

A Field Guide To Getting Lost Vol.2

What is your name? 

Life-changing events, such as advocating for peace and the loss of consciousness appear in the film ‘Maesmak’ that Georges Salameh completed in 2008. For the artist, ‘Maesmak’ has been “a short essay film”. The title is in Arabic and it means ‘what is your name?’
The starting point for the film was in 2002 when Salameh traveled to Iraq. It was then that he joined a procession for advocating peace. During the procession, he accompanied Pantelis, who is one of the central figures in the film. The procession would end with a symbolic gesture and a sign of peace; to plant an olive tree in Rutba, at the Western gate of Baghdad, in the middle of the desert. Strange as it may seem, the invasion of Iraq took place only a few weeks after Salameh’s voyage.
The title ‘Maesmak’ and ultimately the question ‘what is your name’ alludes to the groups of children the artist encountered in Iraq. The fact is that Salameh began to edit the film 5 years after his voyage and the invasion. However, throughout the years he could not disquiet the thought ‘what had happened to those he met in Iraq’.
It is not irrational to assume that for recreating the crudeness of war and politics -that neither a manual for humanitarian aid sufficiently names nor a political statement tackles-the artist sunk in thoughts.
In his effort to invent the best possible narration, and ultimately to disclose the essence of the events as well as the mal-effect, he attempted to employ the title as a rhetorical device. In other words, by raising the question ‘What is your name?’ the artist facilitated himself to dwell on the past events and their never-ending wounding.
Taking into account that Salameh adopted the question for reconsidering the events, one realizes that the film is not the outcome of mechanical documentation or editing. In turn, when watching the film, it is like we observe the artist pondering on the events he experienced and trying to trace the meanings that evaded him throughout the years 2002 -2007.
During these years he purposefully trickled to oblivion, so as to witness forgetfulness. Once he reached that end, he recovered and finally propelled an alert for the mental numbness that stands opposite to sensitiveness and liability. The whole process he underwent was a lasting practice of sensitiveness and a lesson of learning how to recover the truth.
For the narration of the events, Salameh collaborated with Yousif Latif Jaralla; an Iraqi artist and storyteller. They met in Palermo, Italy in 2007. By that time, Yousif was already in exile for more than 20 years. In one voice over Georges recorded Yousif narrating in Arabic the story he wrote for the film.
Taking into account the sense of fragility and the ephemerality the artist brings forth, ‘Maesmak’ is a tribute to utopian thinking and human rights. Ultimately, if we pay attention to the events of the film, it comes through that we should march on every occasion and commit ourselves in life-changing events, even if it is to march or build utopias on the sand.

*By utopian thinking, I refer to the motivation to remain ethical, sophisticated and sensitive, despite the hardships and ongoing challenges.

Amalia Charikiopoulou