Don’t Let 'Cries From Syria' Fall on Deaf Ears

{95c5e860b2f35dbb8305ea42ba367c3930fd0744}Amid the current divisive atmosphere of United States politics, it’s easy to cast the Syrian Civil War as yet another issue on a long list of political problems. However, “Cries From Syria,” a HBO documentary directed by Oscar nominee Evgeny Afineevsky, brings Syria’s humanitarian crisis back to the forefront of the world’s attention. With its street-level view of a conflict that Western audiences typically only witness from a distance, this piece is a striking reminder of the suffering that the Syrian people have endured and the civilian death toll that continues to climb. The documentary may be difficult to watch, but the combination of real-time footage and testimonies demands empathy for the victims of the conflict.

“Cries from Syria” provides well-crafted historical context necessary to understanding modern-day Syria. It first takes us back to the 1963 coup d’état, then continues to chronicle other crucial events like the 1970 military coup that brought the iron-fisted Hafez al-Assad to power, the Hama massacre, and the 2000 succession of Bashar al-Assad. The documentary then brings viewers to 2011 with an interview of a young student who helped graffiti the walls of his school in the city of Dara’a—an event that would eventually catalyze the Civil War. The regime’s response—arresting and torturing the children—led thousands of city residents to peacefully protest. Yet the Syrian government once again answered with violence.

{image id=1322053 align=center size=large caption=false}To document this crisis, “Cries From Syria” compiles footage that citizens and journalists have collected over the past six years. From mass protests and speeches by peace activists to firefights and bombings, the film outlines the progression of the Syrian government’s oppressive actions and the people’s resistance. The film’s graphic footage of this treatment is extremely difficult to watch. This particular footage feels more authentic and emotionally vivid than would polished video from a professional film crew. Instead of the high definition pan-action that viewers typically expect, “Cries From Syria” makes use of grainy, unstable clips to successfully recreate the moment in which they were captured.

The film also collects interviews of Syrian people, including rebel leaders, activists, refugees, and the families and friends of victims of the Assad regime. Afineevsky chooses to omit interviewers from the documentary completely, creating personal accounts that focus solely on the subjects. The result is coverage that reveals the people directly affected by the war, and emphasizes the loss of human life and liberty above anything else. The interviews with young children included in “Cries From Syria” are especially striking, revealing a generation of Syrians whose exposure to conflict has forced them to grow up too quickly. The combination of interviews and amateur footage elicits sympathy from an audience that might not otherwise grasp the severity of the war.

As the violence spreads across more cities, “Cries From Syria” shows a map of the country to track the war’s progress. Each new city is surrounded in red as Bashar al-Assad’s military bathes it in blood. Similar artistic qualities throughout the film—like its symbolic use of color—lend it a level of impressive sophistication.

Despite the fact that the film concludes with various Syrian residents and refugees talking about their dreams for the future, “Cries From Syria” does not aspire to be an uplifting work. It emphasizes the ongoing battle Syrians face, from fighting against tyranny in their home country to the obstacles they encounter when attempting to escape. It also succeeds in showing how the Syrian people are really engaged in self-defense through its collected footage and interviews, despite the regime’s effort to cast the civilians as terrorists.