Cries From Syria is hard to watch.
The Syrian civil war documentary from Academy Award-winning director Evgeny Afineefsky examines Syria's painful struggle with an oppressive regime, and every stage of the story is riddled with horrific violence against the innocent.
"I realized that to answer the refugee puzzle is to go back and deconstruct the history, which is what I did," Afineefsky told Mashable.
"These people are seeking shelter. In their own country their choices are to die in a prison from torturing or to die from the chemical weapons."
Afineefsky started seeing graphic news reports from Syria starting in 2015, so he traveled to the Middle East. He went to the Syrian border — from Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey — where he learned about the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the children who spray painted "It's your turn, Doctor" on a city wall, referencing Assad's medical training. The children were arrested, tortured and killed; Afineefsky describes the atrocity as a spark that ignited a revolution — a revolution which turned into a civil war.
"People were forced to take weapons in their hands to protect their own families, to protect their own wives and kids," Afineefsky says."I think the violence brought, at some point, more violence back."
Cries From Syria unfolds in chapters, tracing the origins of the current conflict and humanitarian crisis. Many of the interviews Afineefsky conducted are with young children, his chosen lens for the consequences of war.
"Our government is just looking for an easy and fast quick solution to terrorism, but it’s wrong," Afineefsky says of the White House's stance on immigration and refugees. "You need to learn about terrorism, you need to learn about the people, you need to go to the roots. And I think shutting doors in front of people in need, specifically in front of these innocent and vulnerable kids, is wrong."
"I’m talking right now not as a filmmaker, I’m emphasizing that, I’m talking as an American citizen, deeply painfully absorbing what’s happening around me," the director adds. "This movie, it teaches us and shows us what is the fight for freedom, the fight for human rights, the fight for freedom of speech. And we also need to be reminded that freedom of speech, freedom of expression and democracy are things that our founding fathers fought for and gave their lives...it’s also possible to lose these things."
Cries From Syria premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, along with two other documentaries about Syria. The synchronicity has nothing to do with the state of American politics and everything to do with amplifying silenced voices for the world to hear.
"For me it was a really important to bring their story to the world as quick as possible, to bring this innocent kids’ voices as quick as possible," Afineefsky says. "Because my story was told from the eye level of the kids, through the voices of this whole innocent generation of kids — through their eyes, through their struggle and through their hope for the future."
Cries From Syria airs tonight on HBO and its on-demand platforms. It is in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles.Topics: documentary, Entertainment, evgeny-afineefsky, Movies, HBO, interviews, syrian civil war, Television