sat 18/11/2017

Syria: Across the Lines, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Syria: Across the Lines, Channel 4

Syria: Across the Lines, Channel 4

Olly Lambert's film takes an unflinching, close-up look at two sides at war in Syria

Syria: 'a nation and a society tearing itself apart before the world’s largely uncaring eyes'All photos - Nathalie Mohoboob

Covering both sides of a conflict is never easy. Apart from the physical dangers, warring parties are wary of journalists who've reported on and established ties with the enemy. Afghanistan showed this as clearly as anywhere, when the US forces were suspicious of any journalists with Taliban contacts.

British film-maker Olly Lambert’s Syria: Across the Lines strode confidently over that hurdle, giving a unique insight into the people on both sides of Syria's civil war as it continues to veer in and out of the headlines after two years of fighting and more than 70,000, mainly civilian, deaths. Reporting from the rebel side of the Syrian frontlines has become common, but Lambert may be the first Westerner to also report with government troops, outside officially organised and strictly controlled media tours.

Across the Lines opened a window on the people caught up by the civil war destroying Syria and laying the foundations for generations of sectarian vendettas, as Lambert focused on the villagers of the picturesque Orontes River valley (why do wars always happen in such beautiful places?). Once the country's breadbasket, the fertile valley is now torn apart as neighbour fights neighbour across a gap easily covered by the range of a sniper’s rifle: on the west bank are the Sunni rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), less than a mile away across the sluggish waters their Alawite neighbours and government soldiers.

On the rebel side was Ahmad (pictured above right), a 20-year-old former policeman who defected to the FSA, who still helps his dad out as a mechanic in their workshop. “I grew up in this valley," he said, fingering his AK-47 in the rebel-held town of Kansafra. "We used to be like brothers before the revolution."

Across the river, in the Alawite village of Aziziya, we met Lieutenant Ali Ghazi who has commanded a military post for a year (view from the regime checkpoint, pictured below left). "It breaks my heart,” he said. “I'll feel very sad if the country stays like this. I wish we could go back to the way it was, to the way it used to be. But we will continue to chase them until we win."

In separate trips, Lambert spent weeks in Syria at great personal risk, filming - he was his own cameraman - and living on both sides. In focusing intimately on Ahmad and Lieutenant Ali, he's personalised the conflict, but that came at the cost of a broader picture giving context to the lives of the two men. There was no real explanation of why two communities once so close have been torn apart, nor did Lambert look at why the West and Arab states such as Qatar were so quick to help Libya’s anti-Qaddafi revolution, but not Syria's civil war.

That was left to Ahmad to ponder. "They are waiting for Bashar Al-Assad to kill us all," he said. "Their heart isn't with the Syrian people. They don't care about all this. About these people that are bombed to pieces."  

Until dramatic air-strike closing minutes, this wasn't so much a war story as a tale of ordinary people trapped in, and trying to live with, something bigger than themselves, over which they have no control. Lambert didn't demonise the forces supporting desperate President Bashar Al-Assad, nor did he make heroes of the rebels. Instead, he humanised a nation and a society tearing itself apart before the world’s largely uncaring eyes.

Lambert didn't demonise the forces supporting desperate President Bashar Al-Assad, nor did he make heroes of the rebels

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Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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terrible what is happing to the syrian people where is no one helping or doing anything is wrong poor little inocent children what lives have they got i would do anything to help them we let romanians slavakians and allsorts in this country we should be bringing people here who really need to be here for safty it really makes me sick that no one is helpng out.

The Syrian conflct as just shown on the channel 4 documentary shows the west in their ultimate state of hypocricy. The Libyan uprising against the Gaddafi regime was very quickly supported by a Western 'no fly zone' which at least protected innocent civilians from Gaddafis bombing - that shown tonight being inflicted by Assads regime makes Gaddafi's air raids look like play school. WHY are we in the west and in particular the UK, not at the very least preventing this blood letting of their own people? We already have prooof of chemical warfare against the so called rebels - what more do we need to provide this essential protection - or does Syria not have sufficient oil to qualify for our involvement? Our non action is building up a future 'perfect storm' of resentment, one that will allow the radical Islamic elements to establish a future power base that may be impossible to iradicate.

There is a great deal more you could say about this deeply depressing film. Ahmad showing how much he had changed by producing a photo of himslef in the Sysrian Army (cold-eyed killer without a beard) and now in teh rebel army (ditto but with a beard). His claim that in the Syrian Army beards were forbidden - when we then saw Syrian officers and troops with beards. The unbelievable story of how the non-Alawite half of the government-held village had been emptied of its inhabitants (they started it, we were massively outnumbered and outgunned but managed to drive all of them out - of course). The ridiculous bravado, fantasies and bragging of the rebels who didn't know how to aim the rocket launcher they had (allegedly) captured and were full of b-s and criminally incompetent in their assault, which broke the Eid truce that had been called. But then complain when Assad's troops do anything similar. Both sides clearly lying. The school-children in the government-Alawite school dancing and singing praise to Assad under the eye of teachers and adults. The raw hatred of each community towards the other, but especially from the rebels who wanted to kill all the Alawites. At least the government troops and Alawite villagers seemed to regret losing a time when everyone lived together in peace. The endless slaughter and bodies piling up. It was far from obvious from this film that either 'side' deserved support. Saudi Arabia and other external players are deeply involved already, as are, in all probability, US and British Special forces. For the various Arab protagonists it's Shia (Alawite is a branch of Shia Islam) vs Sunni. The west tends to demonise Shia (as in Iran), but virtually all the terrorists globally have been Sunni.

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