Syrian film director Feras Fayyad reflects on 10 years of conflict

Director continues fight for freedom and human dignity through filmmaking and activism: 'You can't rely on the world to save you'

Co-plaintiff filmmaker Feras Fayyad poses in front of the court after the verdict in the trial of a Syrian defendant accused of crimes against humanity in the first trial of its kind to emerge from the Syrian conflict, on February 24, 2021 in Koblenz, western Germany. Eyad al-Gharib, 44, former Syrian intelligence service agent was sentenced to four and a half years in jail for complicity in crimes against humanity in the first court case over state-sponsored torture by the Syrian government. / AFP / Thomas Lohnes

"I don't call it a civil war. I call it a revolution," said Feras Fayyad, a Syrian filmmaker at the forefront of highlighting the conflict in his country through his documentaries and activism.

In the 10 years since the start of the uprising, Fayyad's films have not only received two Oscar nominations but have also shown people around the world the struggle, pain and destitution that the Syrian people face.

He says his filmmaking comes from not just a desire to show the world what is going on but also from anger, and the need to reclaim the narrative for the Syrian people.

"I wanted to share my anger. I am angry, I am so angry about what has happened to us, and making movies is the only way to put this out there in the right way," Fayyad told The National by phone from Berlin, where he lives now.

Khalid appears in <i>Last Men in Aleppo</i> by Feras Fayyad and Steen Johannessen, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. *** Local Caption ***  31136303622_f18cabda25_o.jpg

Fayyad's first film honoured his hometown of Aleppo, one of the cities hit hardest by the war. Last Men in Aleppo is the story of the now famous White Helmets", the group of Syrian civilians who came together despite the risk of death to rescue fellow citizens caught in the fighting.

A screengrab from On the other side trailer 2012 BY FERAS FAYYAD. Courtesy FERAS FAYYAD

Fayyad himself is no stranger to danger, torture and hardship. He was jailed in 2011 for his activism. His film On the Other Side, which criticises President Bashar Al Assad, was released in 2012. Even for Last Men in Aleppo and later The Cave, he would take risks gathering footage, then ferrying the footage out of Syria himself or with colleagues.

“We fight for freedom and equality and we call on the regime to respect our dignity. We have to try to teach people what it means to have your dignity taken away,” he said.

Fayyad is unable to go back to Syria, but his siblings still live there. “Their anger is stronger than mine,” he says. “Yet they are not weak, they are stronger because of the war.”

He sad he regularly reminds them to never forget who took their childhood away, and why they have never known safety.

Khalid appears in <i>Last Men in Aleppo</i> by Feras Fayyad and Steen Johannessen, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. *** Local Caption ***  31280753065_1f08e6e836_o.jpg

According to the UN children's agency Unicef, nearly five million children were born into the war in Syria, with another million born as refugees in neighbouring countries.

Fayyad said the trauma of this new generation will be far greater than the trauma he suffered from torture and sexual assault in prison, or the trauma of his father and uncle who also lived their lives under repressive rule.

(FILES) This file handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) and his wife Asma (L) voting on the constitution that could end five decades of single-party domination in Damascus. A decade of war may have ravaged his country, but Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has clung to power and looks determined to cement his position in presidential elections this year. / AFP / SANA / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / SANA" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Explaining the long-term trauma of not just the past 10 years but of decades of what he calls “slavery under the Assad regime” requires education, requires Syrians to keep fighting because ultimately, he said, “we are the only ones who can do it”.

Keeping attention on Syria after 10 years of war is a battle. Much of the world has turned away or thinks it ended with the defeat of ISIS. A poll released in the UK last month showed that only 58 per cent of people were aware the war was still going on and 38 per cent were not sure of the current status of the conflict.

“You cannot rely on the world to come save you,” Fayyad said. “I think the world could have done more. But it could have done more in the time of the Holocaust and any other genocide.

"As humans, we always ask decision-makers to do more but it is our responsibility as people in different fields to do what we can. It is our responsibility as Syrians to keep going. I have survived and it's my duty to keep going to bring change.”

Fayyad said his seven-year-old daughter growing up in Berlin gives him hope, ensuring her life in a world and country that respects her dignity continues to push him forward.

“I will never tire of this work. I think we [the Syrian people] are up and down and angry and we can’t handle what has happened but we are not tired in the bigger picture," he said.

"Personally, I am not tired and I will never feel tired of this fight. Every day, I wake up and I don’t want to give up.”

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Profile of Hala Insurance

Date Started: September 2018

Founders: Walid and Karim Dib

Based: Abu Dhabi

Employees: Nine

Amount raised: $1.2 million

Funders: Oman Technology Fund, AB Accelerator, 500 Startups, private backers

 

Profile of Hala Insurance

Date Started: September 2018

Founders: Walid and Karim Dib

Based: Abu Dhabi

Employees: Nine

Amount raised: $1.2 million

Funders: Oman Technology Fund, AB Accelerator, 500 Startups, private backers

 

Profile of Hala Insurance

Date Started: September 2018

Founders: Walid and Karim Dib

Based: Abu Dhabi

Employees: Nine

Amount raised: $1.2 million

Funders: Oman Technology Fund, AB Accelerator, 500 Startups, private backers

 

Profile of Hala Insurance

Date Started: September 2018

Founders: Walid and Karim Dib

Based: Abu Dhabi

Employees: Nine

Amount raised: $1.2 million

Funders: Oman Technology Fund, AB Accelerator, 500 Startups, private backers

 

Profile of Hala Insurance

Date Started: September 2018

Founders: Walid and Karim Dib

Based: Abu Dhabi

Employees: Nine

Amount raised: $1.2 million

Funders: Oman Technology Fund, AB Accelerator, 500 Startups, private backers

 

Profile of Hala Insurance

Date Started: September 2018

Founders: Walid and Karim Dib

Based: Abu Dhabi

Employees: Nine

Amount raised: $1.2 million

Funders: Oman Technology Fund, AB Accelerator, 500 Startups, private backers

 

Profile of Hala Insurance

Date Started: September 2018

Founders: Walid and Karim Dib

Based: Abu Dhabi

Employees: Nine

Amount raised: $1.2 million

Funders: Oman Technology Fund, AB Accelerator, 500 Startups, private backers

 

Profile of Hala Insurance

Date Started: September 2018

Founders: Walid and Karim Dib

Based: Abu Dhabi

Employees: Nine

Amount raised: $1.2 million

Funders: Oman Technology Fund, AB Accelerator, 500 Startups, private backers

 

Profile of Hala Insurance

Date Started: September 2018

Founders: Walid and Karim Dib

Based: Abu Dhabi

Employees: Nine

Amount raised: $1.2 million

Funders: Oman Technology Fund, AB Accelerator, 500 Startups, private backers

 

Profile of Hala Insurance

Date Started: September 2018

Founders: Walid and Karim Dib

Based: Abu Dhabi

Employees: Nine

Amount raised: $1.2 million

Funders: Oman Technology Fund, AB Accelerator, 500 Startups, private backers

 

Profile of Hala Insurance

Date Started: September 2018

Founders: Walid and Karim Dib

Based: Abu Dhabi

Employees: Nine

Amount raised: $1.2 million

Funders: Oman Technology Fund, AB Accelerator, 500 Startups, private backers

 

Profile of Hala Insurance

Date Started: September 2018

Founders: Walid and Karim Dib

Based: Abu Dhabi

Employees: Nine

Amount raised: $1.2 million

Funders: Oman Technology Fund, AB Accelerator, 500 Startups, private backers

 

Profile of Hala Insurance

Date Started: September 2018

Founders: Walid and Karim Dib

Based: Abu Dhabi

Employees: Nine

Amount raised: $1.2 million

Funders: Oman Technology Fund, AB Accelerator, 500 Startups, private backers

 

Profile of Hala Insurance

Date Started: September 2018

Founders: Walid and Karim Dib

Based: Abu Dhabi

Employees: Nine

Amount raised: $1.2 million

Funders: Oman Technology Fund, AB Accelerator, 500 Startups, private backers

 

Profile of Hala Insurance

Date Started: September 2018

Founders: Walid and Karim Dib

Based: Abu Dhabi

Employees: Nine

Amount raised: $1.2 million

Funders: Oman Technology Fund, AB Accelerator, 500 Startups, private backers

 

Profile of Hala Insurance

Date Started: September 2018

Founders: Walid and Karim Dib

Based: Abu Dhabi

Employees: Nine

Amount raised: $1.2 million

Funders: Oman Technology Fund, AB Accelerator, 500 Startups, private backers

 

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