Magazine article Screen International

'Cries from Syria': Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Cries from Syria': Review

Article excerpt

Comprehensive HBO doc on Syria takes an awards qualifying run in the US before hitting small screens there

Dir. Evgeny Afineevsky. US/Syria/Czech Republic, 2017, 112 mins.

Cinema's floodgates have opened for the pain in Syria to flow through: medium-form doc The White Helmets has just won the Academy Award, but the cumulative effect of three feature-length films to premiere at Sundance will dominate the consciousness this year. Tracking the entire course of events there over the last six years, Cries From Syria is director Evgeny Afineevsky's wide-angle take on the conflict, set to go out on HBO in the US on March 13 after a limited theatrical run in LA and New York. It ties together the country's pain into an easily-comprehensible shout of anguish. That's not to be confused with an easy watch, however Cries From Syria is a hard-hitting documentary which doesn't hesitate in the face of death and destruction. Afineevsky, who took a similarly comprehensive view of Ukraine's Maidan demonstrations in 2015's Oscar-nominated Winter On Fire, has spared the viewer nothing, from images of distressed and suffering children through to scenes involving the recently-deaceased. This could have a deterring effect, but it is to be hoped that audiences, buffeted by propaganda and misinformation surrounding Syria, seize this as an opportunity to better understand.

For a documentary like this, 112 minutes can feel like an eternity. Between the three films which premiered at Sundance, a full and awful picture emerges. If one had to choose, Afineevsky's picture takes an overall approach, from March 2011 when the Arab Spring-inspired protests broke out against President Bashar al-Assad to the horrifying events which played out in Aleppo at the end of last year. While Last Men In Aleppo, directed by Ferras Fayyad, follows the White Helmets to their tragic conclusion, and Matthew Heineman's City of Ghosts takes a look at the city of Raqqa, home to Isis in Syria, Cries From Syria spans the length and breadth of this devastated country, from Damascus to Raqqa, Homs to Aleppo.

It also details the use of chemical weaponry in Syria, the involvement of other players - the Iranians, via Lebanese Hezbollah, Russian and American forces - and, eventually, tracks the plight of Syria's refugees on the open seas. …

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