Film

Doc ‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’ Finds Resonant Truth in an Online Fiction

by

A Gay Girl in Damascus: The Amina Profile is a serious, fascinating, slightly lurid documentary for devoted Al Jazeera viewers and fans of the movie Her. Director Sophie Deraspe tells the complicated story of Amina Arraf, a Syrian woman who wrote openly, and gained a massive following — as well as an online girlfriend in Montreal — by blogging about the Arab Spring, chaos and ordinary life in her home city, and being an out lesbian in the Middle East. All of which would be riveting enough, but then news outlets covered her kidnapping — and discovered that she didn’t really exist. Arraf turned out to be an elaborate fiction concocted by an American man.

Which is why identity matters so much. While the film is organized around interviews with Sandra Bagaria, the Canadian woman with whom Arraf conducted an online romance, and is directed by a woman, the lingering male presence at the edge of the narrative threatens to erase what’s powerful about the world’s reception of the very idea of the gay girl writer. This threat is on a different scale and of a different sort than the violence and political upheaval in Syria — but there are similarities. War doesn’t just change borders and political policies; it erases, destroys, upends individual lives. When Arraf turns out to be a lie, the truths reported on her blog lose their resonance.

Because the personal is still political, it’s hard to understand a social or political structure without connection to it — whether cultural, historical, or human. Amina’s writing made the world pay attention to Syria. Deraspe returns specificity, intimacy, and human weirdness to this international scandal through a collage of text messages between Arraf and Bagaria, footage of Damascus, interviews with queer activists and news experts, and lush, slow-motion footage of bodies twisting and undressing, enacting what Arraf and Bagaria imagined together. What is a revolution or a dating profile if not the attempted realization of an imagined future?

A Gay Girl in Damascus: The Amina Profile

Directed by Sophie Deraspe

SundanceNow

Opens July 24, IFC Center

Available at SundanceNow Doc Club