“People of the Wasteland” by filmmaker Heba Khaled takes viewers to the battlefields of Syria
DUBAI: Viewing war zones in the Middle East through the eyes of a soldier is a daily occurrence for many people around the world. For two decades, first-person shooter video games, including “Counterstrike” and “Call of Duty”, have been replicating the battlefields of the region and players have been able to cheerfully take violent actions for recreational purposes. These ever-popular games continue to evolve over time and make their developers very, very rich: 2019’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” raised $ 600 million during the first weekend of the release. It was directly inspired by the ongoing conflict in Syria.
In 2013, Syrian filmmaker Heba Khaled was filmed on a GoPro that looked eerie on the experience of playing a video game. Therein a Syrian revolutionary, carrying the camera on his head, was fighting – shooting at enemies and running for his life.
“It was just one piece of footage – five minutes long – (but only from that) I decided to make a film about the war in first-person view that looked like” Counterstrike “- which most teenagers in Syria played until the moment they discovered they could carry a weapon in real life, “says Khaled. “It’s about how, unknowingly, male brains accept the idea of killing if someone gives them an ideology or a reason.”
Khaled uses that original visual material and more to put together a story – partly documentary and partly fiction – that offers viewers a first-hand perspective of a day in the life of a soldier on a Syrian battlefield. The resulting film “People of the Wasteland” is a powerful and disturbing document of the reality of war from a perspective to which so many have become insensitive.
Khaled uses that original footage and more to put together a story that offers viewers a first-hand perspective of a day in the life of a soldier on a Syrian battlefield. (Courtesy: Jouzour Film Production)
“In those games you get the impression that you know what war looks like,” Khaled tells Arab News. “But with those games, when you die, you get up again. In our movie, when a person is killed, he is no longer allowed to play. Someone else takes the game from him and puts it on his head. “
Khaled is no stranger to the violence and destruction of the war in Syria. She worked as a media correspondent, with her husband Talal Derki – the Oscar-nominated director of the gripping documentary “Of Fathers and Sons”, about a loving father who educates his young sons to become Muslim militants – from the beginning of the conflict, who lives has demanded of people she loved and destroyed the areas where she and family members were raised.
“I met Heba when she worked for the radio when the revolution started in Syria,” Derki says. “We worked together for two years as anonymous reporters for Thompson Reuters, CNN and Arabian channels. I moved to Homs, and then to Europe, and we were still discussing how we can be valuable. Together we were always focused on what we had to export to the world.
“We worked together on” Of Fathers and Sons, “and it was tough,” he continues. “We support each other differently from project to project. We are very strong partners. We are both from Damascus, and we both speak Arabic, and we know the same people in the field, so together we have been able to develop this project. ”
While the two were working on “Of Fathers and Sons,” with Khaled serving as a producer, she collected as many GoPro images as she could find through her and her husband’s different connections in Syria, while slowly collecting 10 hours of footage that she to a finished product the length of a sitcom. To make the story more coherent, her employee Ahmed Nasser has made a number of extra shots to complete the story. The rest is all real – even death.
The film is not only an inexhaustible representation of the brutality of battles. (Courtesy: Jouzour Film Production)
“This is the endless death of the front line. This is the wildest moment that you can imagine that a person can live in his life, especially as a man, “says Khaled. “It is impossible that I could have shot this myself, because I am not a hunter. This could only be filmed by a hunter, not by a filmmaker. As far as I am concerned, I am very sad for all the things that have disappeared and lost in this That’s why I made this movie, to be a message to show what the war really looks like, “she continues.” It looks like a video game. But there’s no happy ending. The war will never end. ”
However, the film is not only an inexhaustible representation of the brutality of battles. Sometimes it zooms in on the humanity and emotional reach of his subjects, trying to find their way in an irrational and toxic environment.
“It was my (intentional) intention to use moments when people are confused and stressed – very human but at the same time like animals – to make people feel the chaos of war,” Khaled explains. “For young people, there is no clear idea of what it means to be at war and to participate in a war. The film never tells you who the soldiers are, or who fights who, (because I wanted to) give the viewer a sense of general war, rather than just the war in Syria. “
Derki, who, together with Khaled, traced the entire tragic arc of the conflict in Syria through his documentaries and journalism, can only be reminded how violence can poison any cause – no matter how just.
Her film ends with the anonymous soldier who falls to the ground dead while the camera keeps rolling. (Courtesy: Jouzour Film Production)
“When I look at it, I feel so bad that all these valuable ideas can end in a wild way,” he says. “If you look at the beginning, where it all began, and the values, and the honor and the sacrifice … everything turned around so that you become the monster that you fight.”
“These soldiers have the idea that they are on the right; that they are the victims, “says Khaled. “Whatever you are (situation), when you decide to wear a weapon and start fighting, the result will change you from victim to murderer. The use of weapons, in any conflict, makes things worse than anyone could expect. “
Her film ends with the anonymous soldier who falls to the ground dead while the camera continues to roll – underlining the difference between best-selling video games and the grim reality of war.
“More than 80 percent of the people who appear in the film are already dead,” says Khaled. “Not just the man (with) a camera on his head. He didn’t have the camera to report – they made these images to make propaganda about their victory for their group – a victory that never came.
“It’s important for people to know that this is a circle of death, and nothing can change that cycle,” she concludes. “It will destroy everything and continue with new players.”
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