Filmmaker Greg Barker has a political consequence! He is a man who is driven to tell stories about the world we live in, a point proved by the many documentaries he has made on various subjects that include the CIA’s secret war against Al Qaeda, the Rwanda situation and one about Sergio Viera, the United Nations diplomat who was killed in the 2003 bombing of the Canal Hotel in Iraq. His latest is a rather exceptional film about the Arab Spring. Barker was a freelance journalist and war correspondent before turning his hand to documentary filmmaking in 1998 and this background is used to great advantage in We Are The Giant (2014).
The film includes three vital stories of the struggle against oppression told from the front line of what has become known as the Arab Spring. This was a revolutionary wave of both violent and non-violent demonstrations and protests, riots and civil wars in the Arab world, which began in December 2010. Within three years the undemocratic ruler’s in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and the Yemen had been forced from power with civil uprisings occurring in Bahrain and Syria and major protests in many other Arab countries. The people, who actually took part in these struggles, and in some cases secretly filming the events, narrate the three stories. All are exceptionally brave citizens from the country’s involved who were prepared to stand up for what they believe in: democracy and freedom.
We are taken inside the lives of six extraordinary people from different walks of life ‘who grapple with the agonizing and universal dilemmas at the heart of all struggles for justice and freedom: whether to take up arms and fight, or to advocate change through peace and non-violence’ We, the viewer, are forced to ask ourselves what would we do if we had to face a brutal regime, would we be prepared to lay down our lives for sometime most of us take for granted in the “free world”, the freedom to complain and protest against things we object too, without the fear of being badly beaten an thrown in prison without the option of a fair trial or, as many are, to be killed by a states violent aggressors?
Produced by John Battsek and Julie Goldman and co-produced by Arab-American filmmaker Razan Ghalayini, the three stories are not interwoven and are told in sequence. Each of the stories has a on screen quotation before its events unfold and which I will attempt to pass on but there are two that are included with the opening stills, that show previous revolutions and protest’s down through ages and set the tone for what is about to follow:
‘The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall’
‘There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen’
The first of our stories involve Osama and Muhammad.
‘Let them take arms. The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots’
The patriots in this case are father and son Osama and Muhammad. Muhammad was an American citizen; born and bred in the country and living they’re with his father. On the outbreak of the hostilities in Libya when troops opened fire and killed peaceful protesters, an event which preceded the fall of Gaddafi, this young brave wee lad travelled to Libya to play his part in the uprising leaving the relative safety of the USA to take up arms and was killed taking part in a revolution that he felt would improve the lives of the Libyan people. This unselfish act inspired his own father to return to his land of birth and take part in hopefully bringing democracy to a country that had been ruled by a brutal dictator. This section of the documentary is the classic revolutionary story with an iconic hero.
‘A revolution is a fight to the death between the future and the past’
The second of our stories is about Ghassen and Motaz.
‘But I tell you who hear me. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for who ill treat you’
‘The easiest way to gain control of a population is to carry out acts of terror. Death is the solution to all problems, no man, no problem’
This second part of the narrative is concerning what originally started out as a non-violent revolution but when Syria’s President Assad turned his tanks onto the houses of the protesters blatantly killing whole family’s including women and children, for no other reason than people ventured to speak out against a wicked and escalating regime of terror towards the country’s citizens. This barbaric action against the populous forced them to abandon their peaceful protests and take up arms and form the Free Army. But this very action led to outside influences, namely the Islamic battalions entering the country and highjacking the peoples democratic struggle with many leaving Syria for the hardship of refugee camps. The mainstream media incidentally tells a slightly different story!
‘Where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence’
Maryam and Zainab.
The third story is the most compelling and could have been into a documentary in its own right. It involves two sisters and their father. We are now in Bahrain where in 2008 it was named the world's fastest growing financial centre by the City of London's Financial Centres Index. Bahrain's banking and financial services sector, particularly Islamic banking, have benefited from the regional boom driven by demand for oil, its ruling elite are massively wealthy. The Bahraini protests were initially aimed at achieving greater political freedom, human rights and equality for the majority Shia population.
Peaceful protests began on 14 February 2011, but met immediate reaction from the government controlled security forces. Over thirty protesters were reportedly injured and one was killed as Bahraini government forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and birdshot to break up the peaceful protest. This was followed by further acts of government violence. The protesters realised that a government that deliberately kills its own people must go, and to this end demonstrations continued with many activists being arrested on trumped up charges, beaten and thrown in jail for ridiculously long periods and even in some cases killed. When Maryam and Zainab al-Khawaja’s father, a very well known civil and human rights pacifist, was badly beaten and locked up for an indefinite period the sisters protest intensified.
Again we are forced to question whether revolutionary violence is the solution to state sanctioned aggression - especially when the state rule by fear? Maryam went back to the USA to persuade the American authorities to back the Bahraini peoples plea for equality and freedom but surprise surprise support was not forthcoming, not just from the USA but from many other so called civilised caring countries. In the mean time the 27 years old Zainab has been arrested a total of seven times for her continued peaceful protests for democracy and freedom. But she is still convinced that people are stronger than governments but to win the fight the USA in particular must stop supporting the despots because she is quite aware that without their support her oppressors will not survive. Following the completion of this documentary Zainab has been put in prison again, this time for an unspecified period.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope’
The film took three years to make, including one year in the editing suite and tells us a little about what its like to live in revolutionary circumstances where a knock on the door is not the post man but someone from the government’s ministry of fear ready to club you to the floor and cart your off to prison to get beaten and locked up just for being a human rights activist or speaking out in public. Most of the countries were very dangerous to film in especially Syria. And as I have said previously most of the filming in Bahrain was done by the revolutionary’s themselves as journalists and filmmakers were not allowed into the country. The film was uploaded onto the Internet rather than physically brought out of the country. This meant that Greg Barker did not have a great deal of control, only when it reached the cutting room was he able to put his personnel touch to the film. But he did remark that it was the material that mattered not how it was shot. In my opinion this adds a greater sense of authenticity to the stories.
This is a powerfully ‘big story’ of the modern revolutionary experience. A film to raise awareness, one that’s both tragic but ultimately inspirational, an engrossingly moving movie experience not to be missed by those of you that care to know the truth about world events.