American 'freedom fighter' Matthew VanDyke releases film on Syria
Last week, following considerable online buzz, self-styled “American freedom fighter" and documentary filmmaker Matthew VanDyke released the short film he has directed about the conflict in Syria. You may remember VanDyke from the civil war in Libya, where he fought on the side of the rebels. Captured by Gaddafi’s soldiers and thrown in jail, he spent almost six months in solitary confinement. Close to suicide, he only escaped when the guards abandoned his prison and a fellow inmate broke the lock on his cell.
This time, in Syria, VanDyke decided to shoot with a camera, not a machine gun. In late 2012, at considerable personal risk, he travelled to Aleppo, one of the cities worst hit by the civil war. There he met members of the rebel Free Syrian Army and shot the 14-minute film "Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution". He has now released the film on YouTube, weeks ahead of schedule. It is doing the festival circuit and has already picked up over a dozen awards, including the Audience Favorite Documentary Award at the Palm Springs International ShortFest.
“Not Anymore” features two charismatic protagonists: a young woman named Nour, who was an English teacher before the war but has now picked up a digital camera to document the conflict, and an FSA rebel fighter called Mowya, who has previously been arrested and tortured by Bashar al-Assad’s forces. It is impossible not to emphasise with the two young Syrians and VanDyke's film is extremely moving.
The documentary "Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution", directed by Matthew VanDyke.
Perhaps the film's only flaw is that it portrays the conflict as a somewhat simplistic “regime forces vs. rebels” equation. Today, the rebels have been considerably infiltrated by hardline elements. A recent report by IHS Jane's, a defence consultancy, estimates that nearly half the rebel fighters are now aligned with jihadist or hardline Islamist groups. Earlier this week, near the Turkish border, the al Qaeda front group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) actually clashed with the FSA for the first time. But in a 14-minute film made in one city, it is obviously impossible to give a complete picture of a complex civil war.
“I spent everything I had on this film and I am in financial debt as a result”, VanDyke says on his Facebook page. It is unclear how he will be able to benefit from the film financially, having released it for free. In any case, he is asking his fans to “aggressively share” it on social networks. “Don't just watch the film, USE the film, day after day, week after week, to improve the image of this revolution and gain international support for it”, he urges. VanDyke is hoping that with sufficient press coverage, the film “could go viral similar to Kony 2012 and have a huge impact on world opinion of the Syrian revolution”.
Earlier this month, when Western military action against Syria appeared likely, VanDyke began mailing DVDs of his film to members of Congress in a bid to convince them to back military strikes against the Assad regime. But that option is now off the table.
Thumbnail photo: YouTube screen capture.