CRIES FROM SYRIA had already made its HBO debut when I spoke with Evgeny Afineevsky on March 16, 2017. He was in San Francisco, though, to do a Q&A after a screening here. Afineevsky is a garrulous, upbeat man, quick with a smile and a hug, but when he talks about the dangers of American involvement (he holds dual American-Israeli citizenship) in Syria, he is deadly serious and deeply impassioned.
Our conversation covered what he Congress to see his film before moving on to why he has become more political in his interviews; his deliberate choices when using disturbing images; the people he interviewed from ordinary citizens to President Assad himself; what happens when you let a dictator define terms.
We finished up with his musings on the role of documentaries in keeping us better informed that conventional media can; what inspires him about the kids he interviewed; and describing how he met Kholoud Helmi, the heart of the film, whose strength and vulnerability make her a heroine of the struggle.
CRIES FROM SYRIA is a documentary about tyranny, rebellion, and hope in Syria. Afineevsky combines footage shot by citizen activists in the midst of protests and moments of grief and of quiet reflections with interviews with those protesters, ordinary Syrians who have lost family to President Assad’s repression, military officers who changed sides rather than fire on their fellow citizens,and the children who have seen the worst of which humanity is capable, but remain unbroken by the experience. Afineevsky even got time with Assad himself. He also doesn’t spare the audience brutal images of Assad’s victims, including children. It is strong stuff, but to get across the dangers of a regime that chooses its own definition of what a terrorist is, and sees free speech as the enemy, it is a vital component in telling the story of a country falling apart, and the refugees who have fled the country they love in order to stay alive. Afineevsky’s previous work includes the Oscar™-nominated WINTER ON FIRE: UKRAINE’S FIGHT FOR FREEDOM.