EXCLUSIVE: The power of film is flexing its muscle around the world in a feature documentary that is being screened to government officials from Qatar to D.C. Little Gandhi, about famed Syrian peace activist Ghiyath Matar, is being brought to D.C. and will have a special screening for Congress on March 15, with introductory opening remarks being made by Rep. Ed Royce, R-CA, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Afterward, Little Gandhi director Sam Kadi will have a Q&A with Frederic Hof, former U.S. Ambassador to Syria.
While the docu tells the story of Matar and his edict of nonviolent protest, the filmmakers’ quest to make Little Gandhi is a story unto itself. They made the picture without setting foot on Syrian soil, a task virtually impossible since the story’s setting is to this day a war zone. Instead, Kadi and cinematographer Carl Ballou recruited Syrian activists for assistance in arranging interviews — look at the picture where they brought people to be interviewed (left) — some risking their lives, instructing them on the basics of filmmaking (camera use, lighting, etc.) through a crash course via Skype and email.
The footage is powerful — people with cameras literally running their lives in trying to get film. Interviews are conducted with sniper fire going on behind them (watch the just-released trailer above). And with that, they tell the story not only of Matar and his legacy but also of the brutality that is happening in Syria.
Kadi, a Syria native and U.S. citizen, also used Skype to conduct the interviews and direct the entire shoot inside Syria. The digital film files then took over six months to be gradually smuggled out of the country for eventual uploading. The documentary, meanwhile, also filmed in several additional locations in Turkey and the U.S.
“I made this film to build a better understanding of what the Syrian Revolution is all about and what it stands for, years before the Arab Spring,” said Kadi. “These brave activists who were inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi kept the movement peaceful in spite of the Syrian regime’s escalating violence.”
The film shows how Matar’s peaceful protests were met with live fire from the Syrian regime. It was after Matar was arrested, tortured and killed by the regime in 2011, drawing outrage in Syria and around the world, that the country erupted into the most violent domestic conflict in modern history. Matar’s wife and 3-year-old son are still on the run, while two of his brothers have been in government custody for more than three years, with no word ever received on their well being.
This March 18 will mark five years since the start of the Syrian uprising. That night, the film also will be shown at the U.S. Navy Heritage Center’s Burke Theater in the U.S. Navy Memorial, kicking off a three-day conference about Syria. There is a march planned from the Lincoln Memorial to the White House on March 20.
The D.C. screenings come after a special screening for Qatari government officials held January 9 in Doha. That event was attended by 10 international ambassadors including Eric Chevallier, French Ambassador to Qatar, who was French Ambassador to Syria when the uprising began and is featured in the film.