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Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 90th Academy Awards and winner of the Grand Jury documentary prize at the Sundance Film Festival, Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad’s breathtaking work — a searing example of boots-on-the-ground reportage — follows the efforts of the internationally recognized White Helmets, an organization consisting of ordinary citizens who are the first to rush towards military strikes and attacks in the hope of saving lives.


Short Subject and Feature with Feras Fayyad

ALO is here to see up close the phenomenon of Last Men in Aleppo, directed by Feras Fayyad.

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Phil McCarten / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Feras Fayyad on the Oscars red carpet.
  • Q: You made a heartbreaking and powerful film, beautiful in its artistry. The way you depict such suffering is astounding. You went to prison yourself and were tortured, so the question is how do you balance your need to tell the story with the danger that you are in, because you put yourself in harm’s way to make this film?

  • Feras Fayyad: When you see the truth and you know this is the truth, if you put it in 24 frames, it is going to change. This is what I believe. This is how I grew up. I grew up in an environment, if you say ‘NO’ you are going to go to jail or going to be killed. For us in Syria, the films are art and not business. It’s a way for you to have freedom of expression — a way for change — a way for saying ‘No.’ You can do this in a layered way.

    We know when we saw the war and how it involved all of the different parties in Syria, there was nothing we could do about it. We don’t have a way to fight or to protect ourselves or protect the truth that we saw, or the witnesses or the evidence. I felt it was my responsibility to so something for change in my country through cinema. With my team of cinematographers, we just put the camera with witnesses to put the pictures in front of the people. We wanted to involve through this education of what’s going on. The politicians didn’t do anything for seven years. It’s a shame, a big shame. You have to motivate the people who have the power of the speech and the power of their voices to change the society around them. It’s not about us — it’s about the volunteers on the front line. They have their fingers and their hands right there to do something. I believe in the arts and how it can change society. This is what we did.

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Aaron Poole / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Oscar Documentary Feature nominees Søren Steen Jespersen and Feras Fayyad.
  • Q: What has been the reaction of the Russian government since your Oscar nomination?

  • Feras Fayyad: They were “very happy” [sarcastically]. The Russian government does not come directly at me because I am a Syrian citizen with a Syrian passport, so they use the Syrian regime to put pressure over us. They run their media to destroy the trust between the people and us. Like they accuse us as though I am a tourism director here saying ‘watch out, they might have put a bomb under the chairs over there.’ They do it in this way and these credibility attacks kept going through the Russian Electronic Army that is at work in Damascus. They run this propaganda machine to destroy films and frame the films in a different light to create a special kind of damage. Even the journalists are put in a strange position having to write certain things. They tell us that they should only have to write about the films and why are they being put in this position in the middle of the battles. So in some way I feel guilty putting journalists in this position. But in the end, I am just a filmmaker trying to bring evidence to light about war crimes and about how people are being killed. I found myself in a bigger battle than I could handle because I am small.

  • Q: There are so many people talking about this film and its impact, but how difficult was it to actually make this film?

  • Feras Fayyad: It was very difficult, but not just for us as filmmakers. It was evidence of the resistance of the volunteers who try to get their lives out from under the destruction. It’s about them risking their lives to make a change. This is one of the beautiful examples about the power of humanity facing the war machines.

  • Q: On a lighthearted note, this is the Oscars, so who would you be excited to meet on the red carpet?

  • Feras Fayyad: George Clooney. And, maybe his wife Amal Clooney, for their humanitarian efforts. Anytime someone has the voice of humanity, it’s bigger than just being an artist.






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