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Emergency Cinema: Syrian Docs Transcend the "Bang-Bang Shit" of the Mainstream Media

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by Anthony Kaufman
June 13, 2014 7:35 AM
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"This isn’t just some 'bang bang shit' from Syria," said Human Rights Watch Film Festival Deputy Director Andrea Holley. 

It was the key defining line of my recent Indiewire article--the kind of declarative in-your-face statement meant to turn people's heads. Indeed, when 54,000 civilians have reportedly died in the conflict in Syria, it's about time people turn their heads. 

What Holley was talking about is the nature and quality of such docs on display at the fest, such as the Sundance winning-short "Of Gods and Dogs" or the new feature documentaries "Return to Homs" and "E-Team." These are films that produce startling and shocking images that will sear your brain, but they also offer an under-informed public the chance to see deeper, more personal reflections of the ongoing conflict than what is available in the mainstream media.

Rather than show the shaky-cam violence typical of YouTube shock videos or Fox News reports, the festival is able to contextualize the carnage, according to Holley. "Whatever people think of Syria, when you see these films, it's much easier to imagine what it’s like to live under siege, what it's like to live in a city that’s falling apart,” she said. "It's very easy to turn on the TV here, eat your dinner, and watch a massacre. So how do you break through that? We are showing things about Syria in the face of a lot of apathy, but we're showing it in a way that lets people relate to the individuals."

For example, in "Return to Homs," the film's iconic image (see above) — which shows the film's hero sitting exhausted in a hallway, with one hand on his head and the other holding his weapon — provides the film with one of its most piercing moments, encapsulating the sense of anguish, futility and frustration that plagues the Syrian resistance.




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