60 Minutes: Inside Homs
Syria’s civil war has raged for nearly four years, and along the way, filmmakers have been documenting the chaos and devastation, particularly in the city of Homs. For 60 Minutes, Bob Simon shared some of their work, exposing the stark realities of life under constant siege.
Return To Homs is a 2011 movie that documents the beginnings of a Syrian uprising against dictator Bashar al-Assad. One film subject was 19-year-old local sports star Abdul Basset al-Saroot. He was referred to as “the pied piper” of the movement, using his charm to draw a following.
Director Talal Derki was inspired by the young man, who seemed to have no fear. One day, he even taunted snipers to target him. Though they did not take him out in that moment, a response was mounting from the regime. Protestors had to improvise to set up field hospitals.
60 Minutes: Return To Homs & Abdul Basset al-Saroot
When the government could not get Basset, they targeted his family instead, as documentary producer Oraw Nyrabia, recalled that “his mother was forced to make tea to the soldiers while they were killing her son.” At that point, Basset gave up on peaceful action, fighting violence with violence.
The resulting conflicts resulted in the deaths of thousands of residents. Homs, the country’s third-largest city, became a war zone. Documentarians found themselves amid violent history in the making. Somehow, as the film records, Basset managed to maintain a sense of humor in the face of danger and despair.
Not even the cemetery was off limits in this battle for freedom in Syria. Basset was shot on three separate occasions, which did not deter him from his mission. The film Return To Homs concludes with a fourth battle in which Basset was wounded and begged to die.
60 Minutes: Silvered Water Movie Review
Though he survived once again, what was left of his band of warriors was running low on energy and ammo. Finally, the United Nations negotiated a ceasefire, and during that time, Basset and the rest of the city’s residents evacuated. When no help was forthcoming from the Western world, Basset and company turned to Islamists for help, something that was becoming increasingly common.
Nyrabia conceded that Basset’s decision was one of necessity, since aid had to come from somewhere for the fight to continue. As for the filmmakers, it became increasingly dangerous for them to move about the country with their cameras and equipment. Eventually, they had to leave.
However, they used Skype to stay in touch with Basset’s team, training them on how to use the cameras. Nyrabia produced another movie, Silvered Water, with footage obtained from these lessons, as well as cell phone video and YouTube footage. It was directed by Syrian Ossama Mohammed, who had fled to Paris.
60 Minutes: Kurdish Filmmaker Simva in Syria
Mohammed told 60 Minutes that he felt the tragedy of Syria’s civil war could be best told through the eyewitnesses on the ground. Some of the footage included questionable interrogation tactics, including beatings. It was obtained, filmmakers said, when soldiers films and distributed it and videos like it as a warning to deter protesters.
Simav, a Kurdish woman, connected with Mohammed via Facebook and offered to contribute any footage he wanted. She felt that this was a way she could help those who had fled stay abreast of the goings on back home. She spent more than two years documenting daily life, which included snipers and more combat.
Mohammed said that he would worry when he did not see new footage or communication from Simav. She was having some trouble, given that she was cut off from food, running water, and electricity. She recalled resorting to eating grass and leaves for sustenance. “I would try to look at it in a positive way to forget the pain,” she said. “Sometimes the only way to go on living is to forget.”
60 Minutes: Four-Year-Old Under Siege
She went on to open up a school to give the children something to distract them from their violent, unpredictable surroundings. She futilely hoped that her absent students had not become the latest casualties. “The children got used to death the same way they were used to life,” Simav told 60 Minutes.
A student named Omar lost his father, and later he brought roses to the man’s gravesite. Even this four-year-old knew to be on the lookout for snipers. Omar escaped Homs, only to find himself in another town that is besieged by violence.
As for Simav, she left Homs behind as well. She recalled that it was more important to her to share her videos with the world than to stay alive. Currently, she is in Turkey, but she hoped that soon she would return to Syria. Basset formed a new group of fighters and continues to fight the regime near Homs.