Documentary Films Can Make a Difference
And that process can be very emotionally expensive.
Posted May 10, 2018
Sometimes a film can make a difference in the world, and that process can be emotionally expensive for the filmmakers. Watching the film can also be very difficult for filmgoers. Sometimes you may be planning on some entertainment, something perhaps educational. You certainly didn’t expect the movie to be so emotional and heart-wrenching to watch, but it turns out to be life-altering. It changes your worldview. Cries from Syria is just such a movie.
I am not a film critic. I have had the opportunity to work on several movies and TV shows as the on-set psychotherapist, so I see more drama than is ever shown onscreen, but I’ve never seen anything like this. The hard fact is that the documentary filmmaker went to places that he will never be able to forget—and not in a good way. He tells us this shocking story, the majority of which was from the eyes, ears, and video of the children trying to survive in numerous war-torn cities in Syria. What was just a mention on the evening news is now forever etched in my mind and memory, but even more so in the people who survived it and lived to tell the tale.
When Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky first embarked on this project—really a mission—he had an idea of what he was getting into, but nothing could prepare him for what he experienced. “Even though the film is powerful and shocking, what you see is 10 percent of what was going on there. Most of the footage would not be viewable by an audience,” he said.
Evgeny and his co-producer/editor Aaron I. Butler shared openly about the PTSD they are both still dealing with. Evgeny experienced a first-level trauma, actually directly witnessing unmentionable atrocities, while Aaron got a second-level trauma by watching all the footage. Neither one of them can watch the film anymore—it is just too triggering—and both are seeking psychological support because they know they were traumatized.
Yes, witnessing a war and seeing children and adults killed before your eyes will change you forever. But just watching the film that they made will change your outlook. This column is by no means a warning to avoid the film; the creators did a great job of telling a story in a way that is watchable, and it deserves to be seen (even though I had to close my eyes from time to time). The content of the documentary was disturbing. But while I was deeply saddened by what I saw, I found it enlightening.
These filmmakers are now recovering from their experience. They need some R&R before embarking on another project, and they deserve it. Cries from Syria has won many awards and more will come and the recognition is nice, but that isn’t as important to the filmmakers as creating art that changes the way we view the world.
You can watch the film on HBO. See if it changes how you look at the world. My takeaway was that what the people of Syria are living through is something that could happen anywhere, including here. That awareness will make you look at life very differently.