CPH:DOX* Film Festival inaugurated and the Syrian refugee crisis portrayed like never before

By Natasha Salloum and Savannah Assi

The Ensemble of Syrian Musicians performing traditional Syrian compositions after the premier.

This year, the CPH: DOX* Film Festival’s opening night premiered the documentary, “The Last Men in Aleppo,” at the Danish Radio Concert Hall on the same day as the sixth anniversary of the Syrian Revolution, completely due to coincidence. The anniversary is a day in which Syrians pay tribute to when the war in Syria began – 6 years ago.

“The Last Men in Aleppo” won the World Cinema:Grand Jury Prize during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and the European premiere of the film got sold-out.

“When Sundance decided that this film won the Grand Jury prize for the film festival it made me sad, it did not make me happy because in that moment I remembered everything… everything that had happened” said the director of the film, Firas Fayyad.

The White Helmets

The main characters of “The Last Men in Aleppo” who are part of an organization called the White Helmets, have committed their lives to saving civilians from the most dangerous places in Aleppo. Fayyad explained that the biggest challenge of making this movie was not the bombs, killings, kidnapping and death threats, but rather convincing the subjects to participate in the film because they felt like it was a form of showing off.

The White Helmets are a branch of the Syrian Civil Defense that serve in the most heavily-bombed neighborhoods of one of the most dangerous cities in Syria. “If you want to be in the White Helmets as a volunteer, you barely get a little bit of money after six months from small organizations who send money to people who are saving others.” Fayyad added, “Nobody can know and understand what makes these people throw their life away and rescue other people.”

The director explained that these humanitarian workers often deal with the inner conflict between their responsibility to their city and the people that need help and the responsibility of keeping their families safe.

One anecdote that revealed the the horrors in Syria was about one of the leaders of the White Helmets that was able to rescue 250 children during the time he was working. Now he is living in a refugee camp with his own three kids and he doesn’t have enough money to eat or provide for them.

“This film explains how much we lose everyday. We lose our identity. We lose our country. We lose our houses and our relatives. This is not a movie about the world, this is a movie about the human being,” said Fayyad.

Director Firas Fayyad chats with friends before the premier.

The struggle for freedom of speech

In 2009, Syria was named number 3 in a list of the top 10 worst countries to work in media, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. During the same year, the Syrian Center for Media and Free Expression was closed by the government. Since they began filming in 2011, Fayyad and his crew were under constant fear of getting arrested for making a documentary during such conflict-ridden times.

“If you are a filmmaker or a journalist or you work in media, you are seen as the enemy of the government. This is a fight for equality and justice, nothing more,” said Fayyad.

EU’s continuing efforts to provide help

A ‘Joint Communication’ is mentioned in a European Commission press release, entitled  Towards an even stronger EU role for Syria, reinforcing EU efforts to build peace, will be a useful contribution for a conference which will be held on April 5, 2017 in Brussels where the EU will co-chair with the United Nations.

EU Foreign Affairs Vice-President, Federica Mogherini, highlighted the EU’s readiness to contribute to ending the crisis in collaboration with the UN and other global partners.

“The Syrians want peace, they deserve it, as they want and deserve to finally have the possibility to shape the future of their country. We are at their side to support the future of Syria” said Mogherini.

In that same press release, the EU Commission introduced numerous plans of action to enforce their goals by coordinating with both global and regional partner organizations to guarantee that global aid and assistance is available, integrated and effectively delivered whenever support is needed.