As Aleppo Battle Ends, Intimate Film Shows Syria in New Light

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

By Maha El Dahan

DUBAI, Dec 14 – When a group of friends took their cameras to the streets of Damascus to document Syria’s 2011 uprising, they could not have foretold how events would spiral out of control and change their lives forever.

Obaidah Zytoon, a radio host with big dreams for her country, was full of hope for freedom when she started filming the demonstrations that broke out against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011. Five years later, she is in Copenhagen living as a refugee.

Zytoon is one of the lucky ones. Most of her friends did not make it out of Syria alive.

Much of the death and destruction documented in Zytoon’s hometown of Zabadani in the film is eerily similar to images coming out of the battle of Aleppo this week, where Syrian government forces and their allies finally broke rebel resistance to hand Assad his biggest victory of the civil war.

“What remains is the crime,” Zytoon narrates as she watches dogs eating a dead sheep amidst the death and destruction of war.

The War Show, which premiered in the Middle East this week at the Dubai Film Festival, is a disturbing documentary that compiles footage shot inside Syria from 2011 to 2013, taking viewers through a journey of euphoria and revolution to disappointment and despair.

In one scene at the beginning, the friends sit together at a Damascus apartment smoking hash and discussing revolution. “By 2014, we will all be free,” one of them says. Another replies that by 2014 they will all be dead.

The harrowing effect is amplified as viewers become deeply involved in the lives of Houssam, Hisham, Lulu, Rabea, Amal and Argha, joyful young Syrians who fall in love, play heavy metal, go to the beach and dream big, only to meet tragic ends.

“You were the love of his life, you know,” Zytoon tells her friend Lulu in Turkey after they discover that Hisham, who had gone missing for years after being picked up at a checkpoint, had died in prison after repeated torture.

Rabea, a musician who Zytoon described as “universal” in his views on life, gets assassinated in his car. He is found dead by his sister, who desperately tries to put part of his shattered forehead together to bring him back to life.

Zytoon collaborated with Danish filmmaker and co-director Andreas Dalsgaard to bring those stories to life after meeting him in Turkey and showing him the footage.

“I hope the rest of the world can see the film and have a deeper understanding of what a Syrian leaving their country is forced to leave: what is it that they carry inside, and what was the experience emotionally that they are dealing with,” Dalsgaard told Reuters in Dubai.

He said that unlike mainstream media coverage, which can desensitise viewers, the documentary was important in putting a face to the tragedy and revealing a story behind the pain.

“I see pictures from Aleppo, and everyone from around the world sees pictures of Aleppo, but there’s no human connection,” he said. “It destroys our senses. And only when we start understanding each other, and connect deeper on a human level, can our senses come alive.”

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