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Syria Strikes: Directors of Recent Documentaries on Syrian War Criticize Latest Developments

As the situation in Syria continues to darken, we asked directors of several recent documentaries on the Syrian civil war to weigh in.

“Last Men in Aleppo,” “City of Ghosts,” “Cries From Syria”

On April 4, the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun was struck by toxic gas released by the Syrian government that killed at least 74 people and injured over 557 more. In retaliation, the United States launched a missile attack on a Syrian airfield. On April 8, Khan Shaykhun was struck again. To put some of these developments in context, IndieWire reached out to the directors of three new documentaries about the Syrian civil war, all of which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Matthew Heineman, Director, “City of Ghosts

The horrific use of sarin gas by the Assad regime violates an international treaty enacted after the First World War.  The U.S. limited military strike responds to that moral outrage. But it doesn’t remotely constitute a Syrian strategy or, at the moment, indicate whether the Administration will go up against Russia to end Assad’s brutal dictatorship that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and millions of refuges who have been forced to flee the country. 

It also does not address the separate horrors of ISIS which the Syrians featured in “City of Ghosts” are fighting against at great personal peril. U.S. forces working with local militias have now encircled their hometown of Raqqa and seem poised to invade the city. Hundreds of civilians have already been killed since the fight for Raqqa began in earnest several weeks ago. Over 300,000 residents are trapped and being used as human shields. 

As has been the case for years in Syria, there is no easy answer, but surely the only losers in this situation are the people of Syria who want peace and freedom. 

Evgeny Afineevsky, Director, “Cries From Syria”

The Syrian people had lived under a dictatorship for 40 years, but in 2011 the regime began openly torturing children. This was the final straw for the Syrians, and the revolution began. As the regime continued to brutally attack the protesters and people who rebelled, we saw again and again the suffering of Syria’s children. No matter what you feel about the political situation in Syria, no one can deny that the suffering of these kids is inhumane. Chemical weapon was a government’s tool to bring fear on its on people, who rebelled against the Assad regime and been used in Syria since 2012. Unfortunately, we as Western audience learned only about one major massacre, which happened on August 21, 2013 in East Ghouta, Syria. This news was delivered only in small segments, with no complete story and no one been able to learn much about what happened in Syria.

But even this horrible moment in history somehow did not bring the world to act. Syrian people, who were horrified by the events, were hoping to see the reaction of the world. But nothing happened. Since that time and up until today, civilians were suffering horrifying chemical weapon attacks. This attack, which we witnessed on April 14, 2017, finally made all of us to wake up to the horrible atrocities done by the Syrian president.

I’ve been very surprised by the military strike issued by President Trump, who initially was against any military intervention against Assad and its regime. At the same time, I was even more surprised to find out that Russia (who completely backed Assad) had been informed by U.S. officials about the plan that was in action to attack Syria, and they used this knowledge to warn Syria. For me, success of any military operation is the “surprise.” Here, it was completely gone. The enemy knew and prepared well.

Despite all these controversial actions by our government, I do see one positive thing.The missile strikes showed the world that we will be standing against all injustice. America showed the world that no country would allow the use of chemical weapons against its own people. I do hope that our government will not stop here. We will have time to learn more about the conflict and the parties involved in it. After that, in cooperation with intelligence sources, NATO and others, we will be able to resolve this horrifying war through the right strategy and bring peace back to the Syria.

My film “Cries from Syria” is a comprehensive story that takes people back through the six-year journey of the darkest period in Syria’s history. The Syrian Uprising became a civil war — and, later, with too many interventions from different sides, a major war of our time. As a result, it has created a huge refugee crisis, which the world has not experienced since WWII, and it’s affecting us all. People all over the world see only limited aspects of the Syrian revolution — e.g. the refugee crises and the rise of ISIS — but there is so much more to it. The lack of public information has caused people to misunderstand and even sometimes ignore the situation. My film shows how these events have unfolded over the last six years — including ISIS’s rise to power, Russia’s influence, chemical attacks since 2012 and other sides.

Firas Fayyad, Director, “Last Men in Aleppo

Even if it’s too late after one of biggest human crises at our human history, I hope the U.S. attack draws red lines in front of Assad. But the scary side of it is, if there is no plan behind this attack to stop the war in Syria, it could help Assad take revenge on Syrians and expand the crisis. In “Last Men In Aleppo,” I documented the Assad attack on civilians in Aleppo from 2013 through 2016. Most of the victims were children and there were no serious actions to stop this. One of the reasons behind the film is to show how humanity fell down in front of children’s eyes, and to get the awareness how much the Syrian people need responsible action with a plan to end the war.

Any action without a responsible plan will change nothing. The crisis will be bigger. I wish, when U.S. citizens watch this film, they put pressure on policymakers to motivate them to find more responsible plan to bring the peace for Syria.  In this film, showing the Syrian war is a big test for our morality — and our belief in humanity.

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