7 Days in Syria

Posted by Michael Parsons on October 8, 2015 in / 1 Comment


Beyond sobering, filmmaker Robert Rippberger’s snapshot of the ongoing Syrian Civil War brings the conflict unprecedented visibility via war journalist and Middle East specialist Janine di Giovanni (also one of the film’s producers), who went rogue from her post at Newsweek to visit one of the most dangerous places on earth, especially for reporters.  

While Di Giovanni and her crew, including photojournalist and co-producer Nicole Tung, navigate the bombed-out city streets with fixer/translator “Omar” as their guide, the unknown status of recently kidnapped friend James Foley and British journalist John Cantlie lingers heavily in their minds. Of the nearly 200,000 casualties from the war at the syriaaddtime, 150 had been reporters, a statistic that would tragically include Foley, and later Israeli-American journalist Steven Sotloff, with whom Di Giovanni would cross paths in the city of Aleppo before his capture there. Cantlie remains a prisoner to this day.

It began with some spray paint in the city of Daraa in 2011, where an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime spawned an all-out territorial war of opposing factions that would eventually boil down to the Islamists and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the latter comprised mostly of reformed military who want to liberate their country. We’re given a tour of Aleppo, one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities, where its crumbling stone structures evoke images of a once majestic place. Now, its inhabitants  – a fraction of the country’s 11 million displaced citizens – struggle to find four solid walls, transportation, and food for their children, if they’re lucky enough to still be living; an earlier visit to a roughed-in clinic proves one of the film’s most devastating scenes, as we look upon the lifeless body of an infant who might have been saved had only medication been available.

But as depicted in this lurid documentary, the region seems to invisible to the rest of the world, a people left to self-destruct with little means of survival and completely cutoff from basic resources. In the company of Syrian photojournalist Nour Kelze and an FSA brigade commander nicknamed Mowya, we see that street snipers and bombings are an everyday hazard to be avoided like we in the West might consider dodging a pothole on the way to work, while stories of lost loved ones, though startlingly abundant, seem to bolster the resolve of those fighting in their memory.

Rippberger’s documentary is not easy to digest, and with so much realism in fictional films these days, one might get a false sense of their fortitude for such true horrors, as here captured by cinematographers Patrick Wells and Matthew VanDyke (“Point and Shoot”) in a violent firefight that ends with a mortally wounded man proclaiming his devotion to Allah. Raw and unfiltered, “7 Days in Syria”  demands viewing, an important film in which a handful of people risked their lives in order to, as Di Giovanni explains, “Tell a story that the people are unable to tell themselves”.

“7 Days in Syria” kicks off the Reel Independent Film Extravaganza at DC’s Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market on Friday, October 9th.


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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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