Note: This is a reprint of my review from the Sundance Film Festival. A Gay Girl in Damascus: The Amina Profile is available digitally through SundanceNow Doc Club as well as theatrically on July 24, 2015.
As Syria approached its Arab Spring in 2011, Syrian-American blogger Amina Arraf started a blog called A Gay Girl in Damascus and would articulate through blog posts about the situation in Syria, her struggles with the secret police, and the constant moving around she would have to do because of her speaking openly about her anti-government sentiments and her support for a revolution. She became most popular after her post “My Father the Hero” went viral and many started following her and declaring Arraf a hero for speaking out.
Arraf was a revelation. A first-person perspective and a voice among the revolution brought a unique take and made it into something more personal than just reading about it on the news. So Arraf gathered a following, and also began an online relationship with Montreal-based Sandra Bagaria. But when Amina disappears, a whole barrel of lies opens up an investigation that reveals something beyond anyone could have imagined.
The film starts out innocently enough, and if you’ve never come across this particular story or don’t know that much about it, you don’t know what to really expect from it. But as the story unfolds before our eyes, we’re privy to many things, many of which are shocking events that one can’t really believe actually happened but did. The documentary focuses on Amina’s story, but is mostly told from the perspective of her online girlfriend, Bagaria, who was a major player in the story and who was one of the first to spread awareness about Amina’s disappearance.
Director Sophia Deraspe exudes confidence as she unravels the story and creates an intensified atmosphere. For those who are familiar with the story, there are some things, facts perhaps, that Deraspe reveals that are meant to shock, and shock they most certainly do. The drama and the intense retelling of the story keeps the audience watching and glued to their seats. The emotional aspect on the side of Bagaria adds an additional depth to it rather than choosing to just focus on the crazy facts.
Deraspe excels at weaving a surprising story together and in keeping the shock factor coming, especially if you are one who didn’t know all the details of the media story before. The addition of Bagaria only adds to the film, and while there could have been more of an emotional depth to the story on her end, the fact remains that without her, the film would have been just a spewing of facts and wouldn’t have added anything personal. The Amina Profile is a fascinating look at a bizarre and intriguingly shocking story.