Afineevsky puts audience at the front lines in “Cries From Syria”

A new Syrian civil war doc from director Evgeny Afineevsky delves deep into Syria’s struggle with an oppressive regime. Cries From Syria aired on HBO Monday evening — the sixth anniversary of ...
March 14, 2017

A new Syrian civil war doc from director Evgeny Afineevsky delves deep into Syria’s struggle with an oppressive regime.

Cries From Syria aired on HBO Monday evening — the sixth anniversary of the Syrian uprising.

It’s not the first documentary in recent months that’s put Syria in the spotlight. The White Helmets, which took home the award for Best Documentary Short Subject at this year’s Academy Awards, spotlights the life-saving efforts of the volunteer rescue force working in war-torn Aleppo and Turkey. Another film in the category, Watani: My Homeland, followed the voyage of one family from war into exile.

Rather than focusing on specific elements, Cries From Syria, provides a comprehensive analysis and step-by-step guide to the country’s civil war, starting with the first protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s oppressive regime in 2011, the horrific events that followed, and leading up to the present day where we are currently facing the biggest migration crisis of the 21st century.

Afineesvsky says the world first began to pay attention to the refugee crisis in the last few years, but may be less familiar with the series of events that led to its current crisis.

“It was in September 2015 when we first began to see this shocking footage, but it’s about what happened much earlier, back in 2011,” Afineevsky told realscreen. “To understand what’s happening now, you need to go back in history, and that’s what brought me to reconstruct this six-year journey into the darkest period of humanity.”

Afineevsky begins the doc with an iconic image familiar to even those with a limited knowledge of the war — that of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey after his family attempted to flee to relatives in Canada.

What follows is a story woven together using ground footage shot by citizens in the country and interviews with protesters and activists, such as journalist Kholoud Helmi and seven-year-old refugee Bana al-Abed.

A lot of the footage includes material that viewers would not be privy to during media coverage, likely due to its graphic nature. Audiences are shown scenes of abducts, torture, and the aftermath of chemical attacks and barrel bombs, often at schools or homes where children were present.

Afineevsky says that while the footage is indeed graphic in nature, it was important for him to give viewers the full picture of what the Syrian people endure on a daily basis. Children prove to be a focal point.

“Many think that wars are fought between men, but as we saw, that’s not always the case,” said Afineevsky. “I tried to allow this lost generation to be heard and to show their human dignity, the hope, and the real heroes. They’re the future of Syria.”

Afineevsky says he conducted over 100 interviews to create as comprehensive of a backdrop as possible. One of the challenges, he says, was that there were new stories to capture every day, and that as he gained the citizens’ trust, more people would come forward wanting their voices to be heard. It was hard to put a full stop to the process.

“I’m so proud that they trusted me to share their voices with the world,” he says.

This isn’t Afineevsky’s first experience directing a film dealing with political unrest. In the Oscar-nominated Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom, Afineevsky tackled the Euromaiden protests in Ukraine during 2013 and 2014.

But while much of that doc was put together with footage directly from Afineevsky, who was on the ground in Ukraine during the protests, with Cries For Syria, he was tasked with reconstructing history based on supplied footage. Another key difference in the two films for Afineevsky, was realizing that he needed to take on an opposition with Winter on Fire.

While there is some footage of al-Assad in Cries For Syria, the majority of the focus is on the revolutionaries.

Ultimately, Afineevsky says he hopes viewers see that the events featured in Cries for Syria can happen anywhere in the world, and it’s important to be open and learn from their mistakes and their stories.

“These people are fighting for their basic human rights, and we need to be reminded, especially in this political climate, that our founding fathers stood for this right,” says Afineevsky.

With more than 13.5 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance, and more than 6.3-million displaced around the world, Cries For Syria reinstates a human face to the issue.

Narrated by Helen Mirren and featuring a song by Cher, the 111-minute doc aired Monday on HBO at 10 P.M.

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