Overview: CRIES FROM SYRIA is a searing account of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the devastating civil war that has defined the country over the past five years. Drawing on hundreds of hours of war footage from activists and citizen journalists, as well as shattering images and testimony from protestors, revolution leaders, ordinary citizens and children, many of them witnesses to unspeakable atrocities, this harrowing film tells the story of a people who, despite great suffering, have never lost hope for a better tomorrow.
It reveals how efforts to demand basic freedoms and civil liberties from President Bashar al-Assad led to unexpectedly widespread acts of carnage, not only by his brutal Republican Army, but later by his Russian allies (who indiscriminately bombed and killed innocent civilians in cities like Aleppo) and by ISIS (who took advantage of the vacuum of power when the Free Syrian Army advanced against Assad’s forces to gain a stronghold in the country), sparking one of the worst humanitarian crises of recent times.
Expectations: I think anyone who watches this is going to be in for a brutally truthful recount of the whole story of modern Syria. They’ve got to because, simply, it is by Syrians about their country; all told literally from ground zero. Anyone who watches international news or VICE knows that places like Aleppo and Homs are places of rubble today, yet people try their damnedest to survive there. It will be quite interesting to see just how they get to that state via the extensive footage available. It will be difficult, however, to witness war horrors because there is no doubt, the atrocities will not be left out. They can’t be because that is the sad, disturbing history of Syria under the current regime. Brace yourself.
Gut Reaction: Sorry, but the first gut reaction out of the gate is disgust for the brutal savagery upon these people. I almost hesitate to put it to words. Even though, this story and the Overview paragraph above put the spin that the Syrian people have never lost hope that feeling is not prevalent. They are diligent, angry, defiant, crushed and patriotic and that it what seems to drive them, but the searing images you can’t unseen d that they live daily is what grips you. For example, within the first two minutes of this film, a dead three years old lies awash in the surf. Man, disturbing from the get-go!
The whole piece chronologically walks us through the history of the civil strife in the country. The documentary is broken down into four chapters. It starts with Chapter 1 – Dawn of the Revolution. President Bashar al-Assad is already in power when the Arab Spring erupted in neighboring countries. Syria hoped to catch that fever as well and retaliate against its evil ruler. One example of the early steps showed children and teens painting graffiti. They were stopped by arrests and deadly torture. The government was murdering children and the flames of revolution grew from it. The Free Army was formed and a Free Syrian flag was raised and their defiance and protesting angered Assad all the more.
Chapter 2 – Civil War shows the results which was all out civil war between the regime and the citizenry that has been going on now for six years. It began with tanks leveling nomadic cities across the country; no demonstration or retaliation tolerated. All supply routes are cut off No city is safe and they are getting starved out. When that didn’t raise enough of a deterrent crowded schools were targeted with gas bomb drops. The camera shows what remains after such an attack and it isn’t pretty. In one sad moment, a young teen girl recites to the camera her Last Will & Testament that she wrote to her parents. She declared that if her God took her soon she would at least eat well in death.
Chapter 3 – Outsiders showed that it was about to get worse. Taking advantage of the weakened region ISIS moved in. Though not in cooperation with Assad they aided the regime in the genocide just the same. They established their extremist rules wherever they went and doled out beheadings with eerie ease. Thankfully the camera pulls away from that gruesome moment just in time. But in full cooperation with Assad is Vladimir Putin with his military might. Russian MiGs targeted hospitals and bakeries. Non-threatening locales clearly. And Assad followed up with chemical warfare. One unbearable scene shows hundreds of people convulsing, dying or already dead from sarin gas poisoning.
Chapter 4 – The Journey In Between shows the mass exodus and the unique challenges that quest invoked. Many chose, of course, to stay and fight for their homeland and are still doing so today. Many, as we have seen in the news, took flight. By land, by sea, by any means necessary they got out. It was better than dying in Syria. One group of people are shown making their way the whole way to Belgium. Another group met rough seas and lost many. Their tragedy was not over. That is when we walked upon the drowned body of the toddler seen at the beginning. We conclude with a few moments of citizens and their thoughts of undying hopes, but, like I stated, they are not the images that linger with you.
In Conclusion: I sort of left you only with the impression that this is hard to watch and it is, but you should watch CRIES FROM SYRIA regardless. Every time a report comes out from Syria I seem to think it is the ‘definitive’ report of the civil war there. Well, this documentary is THE definitive story. Again, it is by the people at ground zero, about the people at ground zero. If you want the truth about the situation and the complete picture of what is happening there to this day then by all means watch it, but be prepared to be unsettled. I’ll never recommend anything different on the topic than CRIES FROM SYRIA. Thank You, Evgeny Afineevsky for making it.
Next: Inspired by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s own experiences with the law as a youth, ROCK AND A HARD PLACE captures the lives of incarcerated young men who are granted a second chance through a one-of-a-kind boot-camp program. It debuts Monday, 03.27 at 10:00pm.