You can hear it in his voice, you can see it in his eyes and you’ll understand from the thoughtful pauses and the engaging gestures: Director Firas Fayyad’s documentary The Last Men in Aleppo is more than a personal project, it’s a passionate search to save our compassion.
It started several years ago, when the protestors in the Syrian cities and streets began to realize that what started as a hopeful spring was about to become a horrible nightmare. The Syrian Firas Fayyad had previously made a film about freedom of speech and he was labeled an enemy of the regime. He was imprisoned and tortured. It was in this hopeless situation that he found hope; a will to survive. He was keen to explore how the Syrian people survived considering the events that were unfolding.
The result became The Last Men in Aleppo, a documentary that follows volunteers from the urban search and rescue organization White Helmets, as they dig for injured people in the ruins left by bombs in what was once an apartment complex, a neighborhood, a city.
During several years Fayyad was granted full access to the organization’s volunteers in Aleppo. In the beginning he was alone, but in the final years he was joined by an indispensable cinematographer. “Without the cinematographer and the trust given to me by the White Helmets this proof of crimes against humanity could never have been made,” explains Fayyad. He elaborates, “ With the cinematographer we managed to capture what happens from the eyes of the volunteers. It wasn’t the camera or me that was the star, the story is what the volunteers see, think and live. And through them we all become witnesses to these war crimes.”
Even though the film follows volunteers from the White Helmets, the organization isn’t the basis for the film. “I wanted to find those who in their will to survive saw their responsibility to help others, like a parent, like a family”, says Fayyad and adds “I hope this can teach us something about human nature, especially in a situation like this.”
The film follows dreamers and those with a more rational approach to reality. Fayyad says he belongs to the latter group, based on his harsh life experience. Still he has a few dreams that he believes are achievable. “If the civil society can become more active and not so dependent on weapons can the future be brighter. It’s always a mistake to believe that weapons can liberate cities. Afterwards there’s no city left, just pieces of ruins”, Fayyad philosophizes.
He’s hoping that the film audience will pressure their elected officials and at the very least see the value in human companionship and friendship. “The images the audience are left with are evidence of the crimes committed, politicians all-over the world must know this when they make decisions, the audience will always be witnesses”, repeats Fayyad energetically and concludes with a plea, “And maybe we can do like these men who defy bombs and dangers, and take better care of each other, through friendship and faith in humanity!”
THE CRITICAL ROOM: SYRIA AND THE ROAD AHEAD
We invite director Feras Fayyad to discuss the war in Syria, its warring parties, the road ahead.
The event is a collaboration between Films From the South, Arab Film Days and Syrian Peace Action Center (SPACE).
Buy tickets for the screening here.