Press and other responses

“A phenomenal interweaving of fantasy [with documentary reality]… a film which leaves you gasping for breath.”- Elretha Britz, DIE VOLKSBLAD

“Sheer and wondrous, and packed with so much humanity that [there is] little to say, except to express utmost admiration… This story, and [the film’s] interpretation of it, conquers the fear that inhabits living.  It really does at its profoundest make us live more cogently… a treasure.”- Andrew Whaley, playwright

“Memories of the Arab Spring are difficult to conjure from the debris of counter-revolution. By recording and amplifying the faint reverberations of Shahrazad’s search for justice, The Dream of Shahrazad finds hope in the artists and storytellers of the revolution. Verster’s masterpiece upends the documentarian’s focus on the objective and the real by exploring the narratives that serve our collective political will and agency, the subconscious of a revolution. Amidst the exhilarations and disappointments of the Arab Spring, the callousness of political opportunists and manipulators face up to the best that art inspires, the stories and music that make us into caring citizens of the world.” – David Gordon, Professor of African History, Bowdoin College

“[The] movie juxtaposes the auditory and the visual to the point of making both sublime. The contradiction, however, rends the heart and it wounds the soul…” – Peter Edmund Richards

“Verster manages to foreground his characters’ undaunted desire to keep telling stories and creating art in the face of inhuman oppression. Reminders of political unrest are never far away in the film; part of its devastating emotive power comes from the use of real-life footage of demonstrations that are, by now, starkly familiar to us from TV news coverage of the Arab Spring… [A]midst this backdrop of political turmoil lie the vividly human stories of everyday personal struggle that are so well documented by the film itself. What makes The Dream of Shahrazad so special is that these individual stories are woven into part of a collective human fabric of life, death, joy and sorrow. By the end of the film, it is clear that no government regime can stifle the creativity and imagination of people who are desperately seeking a voice with which they can tell their stories.” – Laurie Chen, Savage Online

“A work of vision, music and story-telling, unfolding around memory, myth and the repercussions of contemporary geopolitical forces on personal lives in Egypt and Turkey. By the time I got to the end, I had to consciously retrace my steps to the beginning… getting lost seemed like a perfect reflection on all the nuanced complexities presented in the film. Well done… for creating this post-documentary masterpiece.” – Nicola Brandt, visual artist

“Documentary films about the Arab Spring have been flourishing these past few years, in an attempt to apply an appropriate narrative to the troubling time the Middle East region was going through. One of the most accurate films is The Dream of Shahrazad, precisely because it was not meant to focus on these events… The director looked at the broader perspective: as a foreigner, he allowed himself to take some distance and reflect on what he was witnessing… Verster neither follows nor interrogates [his characters]; through the storytelling, he manages to depict the reality of the artistic aspect of their life and to collect their feelings and opinions, in relation to the events unfolding in Egypt at the time… The film ends without trying to foresee what will happen… It stands open to many political possibilities, just as there are many potential endings to Sheherazade’s own story.” – Cléo Fatoorehchi, Opinion Internationale

“[A] most astounding film – a true opus… that reflects so much of who we are: this strange, complex devilish and sometimes beautiful thing called human… a magnificently woven tale about tales [which] touched me to the core.” – Miki Redelinghuys, filmmaker

“South African director Francois Verster frames a study of swift, often violent socio-political change in the Middle East within a celebration of music, art, performance and the redemptive power of positive creativity. Shot over two years and incorporating such outwardly disparate elements as the Turkish National Youth Orchestra’s staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and graphic images from the Arab Spring uprising, Verster considers the legacy of The 1001 Nights while crafting a challenging, vast yet intimate tapestry of personal and cultural significance. RATING: 4/5” – Simon Foster, Screen-Space

“[A] remarkable achievement… a wonderful bringing together of different elements… beautiful to watch.” – Melanie Chait, Director, Big Fish School of Digital Filmmaking

“This documentary explores in detail the very human necessity to tell stories and the collection of ways in which they can be depicted… A wonderful understanding of the complexity of the issues is created, though the incredibly clever choice, to show found footage of the violence, all set to the classical music written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. These images are cut next to discussion from the artist and people who are still left reeling by these events. It’s wonderful to watch because it gives us one of the clearest and fullest understandings of the emotional movement happening right now… This isn’t another story about the way things should be being done; it’s a story of the way that things are happening.” – Ignite Film Fans

“This incredible film is a must-watch documentary at this year’s Sydney Film Festival…” – Four Three Film

“I did not dream last night because I stayed awake thinking about THE DREAM OF SHAHRAZAD… World, be prepared for this beautiful, complex, layered documentary tribute to the spirit of humanity to endure unspeakable violence. The film is mimetic in this way, breathtaking in form and artistry, with literary and musical overtones sweeping us into the sea and back onto the fiery, dry land…” – Susan Levine, Professor of Visual Anthropology, University of Cape Town

“South African filmmaker Francois Verster is no stranger to social consciousness… The eye behind the camera is always silent – it graciously accepts its role as observer presenting us with images free of personal commentary hence allowing us to determine their meaning for ourselves… We have grown used to Arab world as object, it is always spoken off in most media outlets. In this documentary it speaks to us for itself. Verster entertains a wide array of interesting issues. Chief among those is the transformative power of storytelling. It allows all the artists to take pain and loss and turn it into harmony. Bound by shared trauma, the inhabitants of these nations now posses a new kind of consciousness: war brings the need to be reminded that one is alive, that they matter so they speak to ears now that are more open to listening because they too need the strength these tales carry, if not a sense of recognition and understanding in the other.” – Sally Vusi, Dynamic Africa

“[A] beautiful film… I laughed, I cried and came home inspired and still resonating from it. I already want to watch it again.” – Camaren Peter, University of Stellenbosch

“Francois Verster’s The Dream of Shahrazad is a fascinating dissection of the presence of art amidst political upheaval in Egypt and Turkey, countries both impacted by ‘the Arab Spring’… It’s thorough in its study of the regions, ideas and figures that Verster sets his eyes on, resulting in a piece that is broad, encompassing and creative throughout. Considering all of this, The Dream of Shahrazad has become one of the most investigative and imaginative interpretations of the fissures created by the Arab Spring, through its ability to examine how these fault lines have shattered other spheres outside of the revolution itself… A major aspect recurring throughout The Dream of Shahrazad is the sudden shift in the teleology of high art, and its impending democratisation… The imperative for politicisation recurs throughout Verster’s film, with a realisation that a more democratised art world must be more active in discussing inequalities and issues in society. In a way, Verster captures the orchestra as a unit, aware of the history of classical music as a primarily inaccessible sphere of music, and trying to find a way to re-contextualise it for a wider, broader, and more socioeconomically diverse group. At the centre of this comes the idea of politicising such a style… The Dream of Shahrazad isn’t a documentary that reflects on the past or looks forward towards the future; instead, it’s something deeply grounded in the present – and the issues surounding the imperatives raised through movements such as the Arab Spring. It’s a complex contemporary piece that reimagines the ‘Arabian Nights’ from Iran to Egypt and Turkey; in turn, Verster demonstrates that the idea of “the Arab Spring” is an equally universally accessible disposition, rather than a simple point in history.” – Jeremy Elphick, 4:3 Film

“One of the most powerful films I have ever seen.” – Collette Herzenberg, Research Associate, University of Stellenbosch

The Dream of Shahrazad draws inspiration from the fable to look at the people and communities driving popular movements across the Middle East to fight oppression and entrenched inequalities. Defiance and dissent course throughout cultural endeavour just as they do on the streets, with classical music in Istanbul, internet activism in Lebanon, and youth theatre in Cairo united in the call to rise. It’s rousing stuff and should serve as a guide for other political documentary-makers. Britain, with its crumbling sense of social cohesion and rising levels of intolerance, seems ripe for this kind of allegorical storytelling based on the tales of yore…” – Nick MacWilliam, The Quietus

“Magnificent.” – Sue Ogterop, film librarian

Extensive TV interview with director Francois Verster on Levant TV:

Article in NETWERK24, 27 October 2014:

Article in IDFA Daily Paper, November 2014:

Radio interview with director Francois Verster on SOAS Radio:

Laurie Chen review in full:

Cléo Fatoorehchi article in full:

Interview with director Francois Verster on Arise TV News:

Sally Vusi review in full:

Jeremy Elphick review in full:

Review by Sherif Awad in Egypt Today:

Audio interview with director Francois Verster by Maddy Donovan for 2ser radio:

Nick MacWilliam article in full:

Interview with director Francois Verster by Filmmaker Africa:

Profile on producer Wael Omar:

Video of panel discussion with film character Hassan el Geretly and composer Neo Muyanga at UWC, Cape Town:

Article on Luxor prize in Media24:

Interview with producer Wael Omar:

Further links: