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Mohamed Malas’ dreamy, intoxicating movie opens with filmstrip unspooling onto a blank sheet. A man issues a proclamation: “Everything that is forgotten dies.” So it goes in Syria, where ongoing civil war is torching the country’s cultural memory. Ghalia (Najla El Wa’za), a young university student, feels spiritually linked to a girl who committed suicide on the day she was born. She moves into a Damascus artists collective to make a film with the handsome Fouad (Bilal Martini), who’s so obsessed with moviemaking that his nickname is Cinema. Ladder to Damascus—shot in Syria at great risk to its makers—is about the ways art makes the past collide with the present. As characters quote Syrian poets and relate images from Fouad’s favorite movies to their country’s turmoil, bombs ring through the air outside and Ghalia feels the girl taking over her soul. The film is a celebration of the creative spirit, and a memorial.