Wednesday, June 19, 2013

AFI Docs ’13: Not Anymore (short)

Filmmaker Matthew VanDyke has unusual but highly pertinent qualifications to document the Syrian revolution.  The self-described freedom fighter escaped from Gaddafi’s Abu Salim prison, where he was held in solitary during the Libyan civil war.  Like a Twenty-First Century throwback to partisan press corps that covered the Spanish Civil War, VanDyke both documents and advocates on behalf of the everyday Syrians rebelling against Assad’s dictatorship in his short documentary, Not Anymore: a Story of Revolution (trailer here), which screens during the 2013 AFI Docs presented by Audi (as it is now officially, if awkwardly known).

VanDyke’s fixer is also his producer and subject.  Nour Kelze sounds like she was once the sort of modern, educated woman so desperately needed in the Middle East.  A former school teacher, she explains she once wore fashionable clothes and high heels, but “not anymore.”  With the onset of the Ba’ath regime’s crackdown, she became a war photographer, adopting the profession’s Kevlar helmet and vest.

Kelze guides viewers through the chaos that once was the thriving city of Aleppo.  Although still populated, the neighborhoods strafed by Assad’s forces now look like a ghost town.  Free Syrian Army commander “Mowya” wryly observes Assad certainly made good on his promise to clear out the panhandlers from the desolate, bombed out streets.

While Not Anymore clocks-in just under fifteen minutes, VanDyke captured more action in that time-frame than he probably would have liked.  Unlike some documentary filmmakers, he is clearly willing to put himself on the front line, just like his producer.  That gives the doc real immediacy and authenticity.

Throughout the film, VanDyke’s interview subjects pointedly ask why America has not forcefully interceded on their behalf.  He is understandably diplomatic in his responses, but the hard truth is for the last four years or so, American foreign policy has been more interested in cultivating relations with regimes like Assad’s than changing them.  Perhaps his film will open some eyes.  Granted, it has a decided point of view, but it still is a powerful example of cinematic journalism.  Recommended for all viewers concerned about conditions in Syria, Not Anymore screens tomorrow afternoon (6/20) and Sunday morning (6/23) as part of the Truth Be Told programming block at this year’s AFI Docs presented by Audi.