A few weeks ago, I saw a screening of a new documentary film called Cries From Syria. It was a punishing watch. The film is raw, emotional, and relentlessly honest about the costs of war. The director, Evgeny Afineevsky, an American citizen who was born in the former USSR, doesn’t spare the viewer any discomfort.
In one scene, Afineevsky cuts to what appears to be a basement somewhere in Aleppo. It’s minutes after a chemical weapons attack. Scattered across the floor are dozens of children, bodies convulsing violently, gasping their last breaths. The scene is short, but it feels like an eternity. The point isn’t to pummel the viewer with violence. This is a confrontation with the truth, and it’s horrifying.
“My duty is to show the true face of this tragedy,” Afineevsky told me recently. “People can’t understand an atrocity if they don’t see it for what it is.”
If his goal was to make the suffering in Syria less abstract and more concrete, he has succeeded. This film lingers long after it is seen.
In this interview, I talk to Afineevsky about the documentary, which airs Monday night on HBO. I ask him why he decided to make this film, and what he hopes to accomplish now that it’s done.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
I was surprised by the scope of this film. You made a conscious decision to analyze the broader six-year conflict in Syria, as opposed to just focusing on a single dimension of this story. Why did you feel the need to provide that context? ….