DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syrian film-maker Omar Amiralay, whose documentaries exposed the social and economic life in Syria since the Baath Party took power five decades ago, died on Saturday. He was 66.
Amiralay, one of the Arab world's most influential film makers who achieved international renown with works such as "A flood in Baath Country," had a heart attack at home in Damascus, friends said.
A week before his death, he signed a declaration by independent Syrian figures in support of the anti-government street protests in Egypt.
"Amiralay died at the moment when he was needed most as a voice for liberty in Syria," one friend said.
Most of Amiralay's films are banned in Syria, where the state has a monopoly on cinema production. Born in Damascus of Circassian, Turkish and Arab origin, he studied in Paris.
He helped make "Cousin," about leading Syrian opposition figure Riad al-Turk, who spent more than 17 years as a political prisoner in solitary confinement during the rule of late President Hafez al-Assad.
"I live in a country steadfastly marching on its hooves to its own demise, after it was betrayed by its rulers, deserted by its brainpower and abandoned by its intellectuals," Amiralay said before his death.
"My cinema is no more than my expression of scorn at the despair and tyranny that governs life around me, and the role of man in compounding it with more hopelessness and abuse."
A tall, soft spoken man with a dry sense of humor, Amiralay dismissed Syrian government controls over culture, which he said smothered innovation and resulted in the disappearance of cinema going as a national pastime.