Coming of age under fire

SYRIA / Under bombs, an aspiring video journalist finds herself facing self-reckoning as the unexpected narrator of her own destiny.

Until the Putin regime launched a reign of terror upon its neighbour, the ongoing civil war in Syria was perhaps the most documented conflict in recent (western) media. This inevitably made it prone to the usual dumbed-down, foreign-lensed tropes: Baddie Bashar propped up by the aforementioned baddie while launching his own parallel reign of terror against a Syrian populace longing to be free. But what happens when the lens gets widened to include Damascus’s rather prosperous and intact urban base in addition to the bombed-out and struggling cities of Homs and Aleppo? What happens when the picture shows a still bustling capital filled with folks who would just as soon get on with their middle-class lives and look away? Until, also inevitably, they can’t.

5 Seasons of Revolution
5 Seasons of Revolution, a film by Lina

Luckily, we have Lina (who, for safety reasons, goes only by her first name) and her stunning Sundance debut, 5 Seasons of Revolution, which brings an unexpectedly new perspective to a decade-plus-old story. Back in 2011, Lina was a recent college grad in the capital city of Syria, doggedly pursuing a career in video journalism, when her world turned upside down. Beginning with a life-changing revolution, and over the next four years, Lina transformed from naive 20-something into an accidental war reporter, capturing images in the most painfully personal way – by following a band of friends, her friends, all cosmopolitan liberals like herself who find themselves at odds with a not insignificant portion of their neighbours in the al-Assad stronghold.

Until the Putin regime launched a reign of terror upon its neighbour, the ongoing civil war in Syria was perhaps the most documented conflict in recent (western) media.

What ultimately emerges is what might best be described as a coming of age under fire tale. Friends grow up together and draw closer and apart. Priorities and allegiances shift. Some choose to stay close to home, others to escape to far-flung places abroad. But, really, the only difference between the experience of Lina, Susu, Rima, Malaz, and Bassel and that of any other young and educated clique is that the journey to adulthood likewise includes detentions and arrests, death, forced exile, and witnessing the disintegration of one’s homeland in front of their eyes. No wonder it took Lina, now an expat in Europe, 11 years (and a little help from producer Orwa Nyrabia and EP Laura Poitras) to process all that smuggled footage (mixed with heartfelt home movies) while simultaneously ensuring the safety of everyone involved. Including herself, a seasoned adult and astonishingly courageous filmmaker still processing her own emotional toll.

5 Seasons of Revolution
5 Seasons of Revolution, a film by Lina

And yet how does one grapple with a nightmare from which there’s really no escape? For even as 5 Seasons of Revolution embarks on its international festival run, playing mainly to the same intellectual and privileged class as that of Lina and her comrades, the war in Syria rages on; al-Assad remains strong. The flood of refugees continues, as does the misery of the internally displaced. And today’s humanitarian crisis becomes the latest ratings grab for tomorrow’s cycle of nonstop unnuanced news.

5 Seasons of Revolution screens as part of the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival Newcomers competition

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Lauren Wissot
Lauren Wissot
A US-based film critic and journalist, filmmaker and programmer.

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