The director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Last Men in Aleppo speaks of trauma and paranoia over the extreme lengths some are taking to stop him from telling the truth
On 4 March, the Academy Awards ceremony will be held in Los Angeles. My film, Last Men in Aleppo, is one of the nominees for best documentary feature. It was shot during the 2015-2016 siege of Aleppo, when the Assad regime fought to seize control of the city with the help of its ally, Russia. Throughout this time, the citizens of Aleppo were cut off from food and medical supplies and Russian warplanes dropped bombs on a near-constant basis. Thats the factual background, but the films true subject is the people of Aleppo, particularly a small group of volunteer rescue workers with the civil defense organization known as the White Helmets. Last Men in Aleppo is a diary of war, seen through the eyes of ordinary men who race to bombing sites to save the living and retrieve the dead. It is also a story about hope and belief in human values.
My colleagues and I made Last Men in Aleppo because we believe in the power of film and the arts to bring attention to injustice. The Academy Awards broadcast is one of the worlds biggest public stages, and a tremendous opportunity to connect with audiences outside of movie theaters. I was looking forward to being there alongside two people who are very important to the film: Mahmoud Al Hattar, one of the White Helmets, and my producer, Kareem Abeed.
Now we know that will not happen. About 10 days ago we learned that the Syrian government had denied Mahmouds request for a passport. The authorities also scheduled Kareems visa interview for two days before the Oscars were to be broadcast. Then, on 20 February, the US government rejected Kareems visa application under the rules of Trumps travel ban, which refuses entry to people from Syria and seven other countries.
Syrias restrictions on Mahmoud and Kareems movements are one way the Assad regime can act to silence witnesses to history. The restrictions are essentially a ban of freedom of expression which is clear for the world to see. But this is not the only action taken to suppress the story of Aleppo. Because the film captures the sickening results of Russian airstrikes, Russia is waging a disinformation campaign to discredit the film, its subjects and me.
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