Today, Syrian director Feras Fayyad, author of acclaimed documentary “Last Men in Aleppo” which depicts the stories of humanitarian aid workers and activists from the White Helmets movement and which has become the first Syrian film ever to be nominated for an Academy Award, confirmed he would be coming to Prague. Fayyad is coming on invitation from the One World festival and will personally introduce two screenings of his film in Prague.
The “Last Men in Aleppo” documentary made headlines around the world not only thanks to its cinematic qualities, the cruel everyday reality of the war it shows and the awards it received (apart from an Oscar nomination, it also won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance festival) but also because of the disinformation campaign launched against the film and its director on social networks. After the announcement of the Oscar nominations, the director was targeted by numerous attacks intended to discredit his work - the film was labeled “Al-Qaeda propaganda” among other things and its director a terror sympathizer.
“Russia wants to hack the Oscars the same way they hacked the US election” was the director's comment on the disinformation campaign for British The Guardian. Also, his trip to the Academy Awards ceremony wasn't an easy one. Due to the ban on travel of citizens of selected Muslim-majority countries to the USA, it wasn't clear until the very last moment if Kareem Abeed, producer of the film, could make it to the ceremony. The Academy eventually published a joint statement in his support and Abeed received his US visa at the very last moment. Nevertheless, one of the film's protagonists – Mahmoud Al-Hattar – wasn't allowed to enter the USA.
The film takes place in Aleppo, one of the cities most devastated by the Syrian war, where some of its citizens decided to stay nevertheless. Fayyad allows us to witness the everyday work of thousands of White Helmets volunteers whose tireless activities saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians. The main protagonists of the film are Khaled, a worker, and Mahmoud, a former philosophy student. It took Fayyad several months to gain their trust and convince them his goal was to show them as human beings who have their own dreams, desires and ideas about their lives rather than as victims or superheroes. Both protagonists agree that to young people, working for the White Helmets is an opportunity to change the society and help in the most affected areas without having to enlist in the army or leave the country.
Fayyad himself had to flee Syria after he was jailed twice. He was sent to prison because of his previous film “On the Other Side” which he made in 2015 and which focuses on a Syrian poet who currently lives in Prague. The film was made with participation of Czech crew members. Fayyad and his family currently live in Denmark.
The One World festival will screen “Last Men in Aleppo” on Saturday, March 10 at 8:30 pm at the large hall Lucerna Cinema and on Sunday, March 11 at 8:45 pm at the small hall of the Světozor Cinema. The director is expected to be present at both screenings for questions and answers after the film. Feras Fayyad is staying in Prague until Tuesday morning.