Filmmaker Heba Khaled Offers First-Person View Into The Syrian Conflict In Experimental Short Film

Director Heba Khaled, Courtesy of Jouzour Film Production

There have been numerous perspectives, opinions and news bulletins talking about the ongoing Syrian conflict. It can be overwhelming and confusing at times for those of us who are so far away from the situation but want to make sense of what is happening. Well now there is a way to do this, through filmmaker Heba Khaled’s award-winning experimental short film ‘People Of The Wasteland’, which is currently under Awards Consideration for Best Documentary Short for the upcoming awards season.

Her film depicts a first-person point-of-view perspective of clashes between Syrian fighters on the front line. In the chaos of war, the lines between right and wrong become blurred. This rare Go-Pro footage from inside war aims to remind us that in a territory where the landscape and the people are ephemeral because of war, only the camera can remain alive, and only the image of a certain moment can remain eternal.

Heba’s work on this film is important as she not only showed a unique angle to a conflict that often dominates global news and political conversations, but also brought in the issue of gender and war.

“As a female filmmaker, it was impossible for me to be there to film this. It was very urgent to learn how men and masculinity controls radicalism, and this experience at the moment of killing in a war, and to transfer it in a cinematic way through my own eyes, mind and heart,” she said in a press release.

People of the Wasteland KEY IMAGE, Courtesy of Jouzour Film Production

‘People Of The Wasteland’ was produced by Talal Derki (“Return to Homs,” “Of Fathers and Sons” – 2019 Academy Award® Nominee for Best Documentary Feature). Heba’s work as an undercover reporter and producer for networks such as CNN, Al Arabiya and Reuters helped inspire the short film, which she began collecting footage for in 2014.

Through her connection to many cameramen on the ground in Syria whom she knew through her work at Thomson Reuter helped her to collect some of the footage. Additional footage was collected by Talal in Syria while he was shooting his film ‘Of Fathers and Sons’, and footage from the main cameraman (which is seen at the beginning of the film), was also sent to her. The footage was sent to Heba in Berlin, where she took the material to form a story and ultimately edited it down to 21 minutes with editor Alex Bakri. In total there were six different fighters whose footage was used in the short film. They seamlessly edited the footage together to give the viewer the look and feel as if there was only one cameraman.

The film is a trip inside the heart and front line of the war in Syria. As the film’s viewer, the audience becomes the character. The fighters were mostly Jihadists who were working under the command of Turkey’s President Erdoğan. About 80% or possibly all of these fighters were killed in the war. They were fighting against the Kurds as well as against the Syrian army, but the film keeps their background and affiliations vague. Artistically and aesthetically, Heba’s intention is to not make it clear to the viewer what side they are on or who they are fighting for.

Director Heba Khaled and producer Talal Derki, Courtesy of Jouzour Film Production

Talal Derki is Kurdish and originally from Damascus. He married Heba in 2011, and they moved to Berlin in 2014. Khaled is from Ghouta in Southwestern Syria. She lost 20 relatives from bombings, fightings and prisons in the war.

“When I was in Syria for the first three years of the war, I believed that the people had the right to carry weapons to protect themselves. But now I regret that feeling. I spent 25 years in a very similar conservative area of the land you see in the film. My childhood memories, my town, everything about it has been totally destroyed,” she said.

“Much like in a first-person shooting video game, the humans are a tool of destruction. In a video game, you feel no sympathy. My film is a statement against the war and the violence and asks the question, ‘why do we kill?’ It’s the global idea that in war itself, you are both the murderer and the victim. There is no holy war. All wars are the same,” she continued.

These are timely questions and issues that implore us all to think deeply about. We are thrilled for Heba and Talal to have their film being considered for awards as documentaries have the unique ability to impact culture and individuals in ways politics and the newsmedia cannot. Watch the trailer for ‘People Of The Wasteland’ below:

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