At the world’s largest documentary film festival, Amsterdam’s IDFA, in November, the opening film took us straight to the fighting in Syria. Return to Homs was a testament to the revolutionaries. The head of the festival describes the film as a masterpiece and «a very personal story». The personal aspect is following the young main character Abdul Basset al-Sarout, who changes from being a football star and Homs’ popular pacifist protest-singer (the film’s only musical track) to one of the revolution’s combat leaders. In line with the video activist Ossama al-Homsi, at first the resistance was limited to demonstrations and social media.
Toda, Homs is the city most symbolic of the uprising against Bashir al-Assad’s suppressive regime. The city has suffered massive military attacks, bombs, and has been besieged. The military could easily barge in the door, rape your daughter, kidnap the father and son of the house, and then ditch the dead bodies outside of the door the next day.
Bassett’s appeal. The film begins in August 2011, with women and men demonstrating and chanting that they will never surrender. As the film ends two years later, Homs is nothing but a ruin. At the start, they bury their dead, but after some time the dead bodies are scattered in the streets, killed by military snipers. Ossama is arrested because his «camera was more dangerous than weapons». No one has seen him since. During these two years, we see the resistance hero Basset change completely due to the war. He has barely survived. Friends and family are killed. His family home is destroyed. People are hiding in the ruins, the deserted streets are full of bomb cavities. Despite this, the young rebels are still staunchly defending their neighbourhoods against the brutal ravages of the governmental army. The 21-year old Basset is a war hero; he is handsome, convincing, analytical, and possessing all the charismatic qualities of a leader. But, nearing the end, we see him injured and muttering in shock. It all seems hopeless as we see them firing through bullet holes whilst shifting around in the ruins of the post-apocalyptic outpost which Homs seems to have become. Basset is just about to give up during a hail of bullets, in the end they flee the besieged city, digging through a tunnel. They make a heroic return, as the film title suggests: Basset gathers a couple of his closest friends to fight the governmental army again, they want to create an opening to free their families.
At the post-screening debate in Amsterdam, the Syrian producer (who is also the film’s photographer), Orwa Nyrabia, cites an appeal from Basset: «The 4,000 still left here in the military blockade have ran out of food, with just some grains left. When you see this film, please consider what it is like to be barricaded in such a siege, and please help us. Ask your government to make an effort, ask the so-called international community, and call for their humanitarian organisations, so that we can secure shipments of food and medicines. Especially for the children and the elders among us here. »
Political pressure. A year and a half ago, I interviewed the film maker Sofia Amara in connection with the Oslo screening of her film Syria: Inside the Repression (2011). She explained that the «regime imprisoned and tortured children for writing graffiti on walls. They pull nails off arrested people. Whenever I asked people if they would give up if the blood shed became too much, the answer was always: ‘No they are attacking our children!’ It is a fundamental crime to rob children of their innocence. »
She witnessed people cut into pieces, saw things she will never comprehend. She filmed where no camera operator dared to venture. Her film features only ten percent of her recorded material, the worst footage she handed over to Amnesty International: children whose teeth have been ripped out or their faces ruined by torture instruments. She was unable to broadcast this on TV.