In the summer of 2013, filmmakers Wojciech Szumowski and Michal Przedlacki spent almost two months in Aleppo, documenting the daily struggles facing ordinary Syrians during the ongoing civil war. Their film Aleppo: Notes from the Dark provides a unique insight into the Syrian conflict and its impact on the people. Przedlacki spoke to Al Jazeera about the making of the film and his time in Aleppo.
Al Jazeera: Why did you decide to make the film Aleppo: Notes from the Dark ?
Michal Przedlacki: Because we are human beings and we cannot remain silent. We have made the film to bring out evidence of what is happening to people in Syria and to protest against the civilization of indifference. As a global society, we have been becoming increasingly indifferent to the fate of another human being. Wars are nowadays narrated almost in an entertaining way. And since Iraq we have entered into a world of numbers, statistical narration of death. Now death and despair are pushed out from television screens, because the images are considered to be too brutal to be shown.
This is however the real image of war, and if we are to act against wars and bloody dictators who consider their own population less important than dust, we need to know what people are really going through. Empathy, understanding and solidarity are closely connected issues.
Can you tell us about how you met your characters?
We decided to go to Aleppo for enough time to properly document and follow the fate of ordinary people. I am not sure if you know, but we made the film from over 200 hours of footage. We stayed close to two months in Aleppo while we filmed.
Abu Ahmed from FSA we met in a first aid point with his son. Abu Haidar from the Islamic brigade we met in quite extraordinary circumstances to be honest. Majid Fleyes we met at the Karaj al-Hajis, the 21st century alley of snipers, which we knew will be part of the documentary.
What was important to us from the very beginning was a careful choice of characters, a choice such, that allows telling the story of the city and the story of struggle. Not just an armed struggle and not just a material from the frontline - but an universal tale told through a panorama of characters, real people who have a past, who have not been born on the first day of conflict.
It took us time to research and document, and that is why we have stayed this long in Aleppo, even if that meant an increased risk. The risk we took was nothing compared to the risk people living in Aleppo have already faced.
Is there a particular character you really connected with or whose story most touched and influenced you?
I am mostly connected with Sheikh Qasim, and Imam from Southern Aleppo. I have known Sheikh Qasim since November 2012 when I first reached to Aleppo. I have worked with him for a few months while staying in the city, prior to filming. We've shared good and difficult moments in this city shelled by regime from land and air. I have found him extremely honest and dedicated, friendly, respectful and brave.
In most cases we had a great reception from people, and this is not an overstatement. And it happens in a place where nothing is spared, where military sites in opposition-controlled areas are the minority target, where crossing a street can be fatal as snipers look for targets. But there were some few situations, particularly at bombarded sites, where people were afraid that cameras have direct sat links and this will bring more bombs.
How did people in Aleppo react to you filming?
In the end we became part of the landscape. At the end of second month, when we had literally filmed on the streets every single day, some people already recognised us.
At any point did you feel like you should stop filming?
There were moments, in hospitals, at sites bombarded by planes or by SCUDs, moments of strong emotions, when the camera in your hand is the witness to brutality of war; it will bring the truth out, but it's also a burden, because it occupies both hands, hands that could be used to help saving others. But we have never been alone in such situations and there were many people to help.
And there were moments of great fear. With Mohammad we were filming the panorama of Aleppo under the control of the regime - several 100 meters, maybe a kilometre from regime positions, too much in the open. Due to camera malfunction, we decided to repeat [filming]. Or [another time] in Karaj al-Hajis, in the alley of snipers, among the crowd, [we were] hiding the camera but filming and hoping not to be spotted.
How has the experience of filming this influenced you - personally and professionally? Has it shaped your approach to filmmaking and your views of the conflict?
This has deeply influenced me as a human being. What is happening there is an armed struggle against a tyrant and a regime responsible for genocide of its own nation, while we as society keep calm and watch this olympics of brutality. This is the shocking reality of global politics which does not care at all about lives of people. We should feel ashamed looking into eyes of any Syrian we meet.
I am saying this based on several months spent inside Syria, while delivering humanitarian aid and witnessing aerial bombardments of civilian areas, use of cluster munitions, SCUDs, heavy artillery on residential places full of displaced people, and of people pushed to live in graves, where they are still bombarded by regime warplanes. I have previously worked in Afghanistan and in Chechnya. I never expected to see more brutality than what we witnessed in Grozny, Chechnya's capital.
The world should not continue speaking of Islamic radicals in Syria, using this as a the cover for our inwillingness to stop the bloodshed. We need to stop painting a horror face to Islam, for the sake of peace in the world. Most of opposition are moderate Muslims and Syrians, God and peace loving, just like everyone else. The real terrorists were fed and raised by Bashar al-Assad. It has been the opposition that fought and fights against real radicals. This is no secret. I am against extremism, and I am against lies.
For more on Aleppo: Notes from the Dark: www.alepponotes.com
Source: Al Jazeera