AFI Docs Review: “Not Anymore”

Activist Matthew VanDyke provides a close-up look at the Arab Spring’s hardest-hit community in this searing short.

By: Diana Elbasha

A young Syrian girl holds her country’s flag with widestretched arms and sings cheerfully into a camera. Behind her on the sandy Aleppo street, a demonstration takes place—freedom fighters, parents, Free Syrian Army generals and children exist as one here, marching to express a single plea: Get rid of Bashar al-Assad.

Then an explosion occurs. The camera drops. The demonstrators’ voices turn into panicked screams; the girl’s singing stops.

The 15-minute short, Not Anymore, filmed by activist Matthew VanDyke offers a heartbreaking glimpse into daily life in today’s Syria—a country that prior to having a shattered infrastructure, outpouring of refugees, and massive casualties in the height of civil war was a close-knit Middle Eastern destination decorated with historic architecture. “It is beautiful,” says Nour Kelze, a 24-year-old teacher-turned-freedom fighter and a producer of the film, “without that monster.”

The film follows Nour, a fearless and passionate Syrian rebel, as she braces the front lines of a conflict that has taken her job, her friends, and her country’s picturesque landscape. She’s now a war photographer. “Everyone is going to know what’s happening to us,” she says, wearing a hard hat and sneakers in place of her former “fancy dresses and high heels.”

Later in the film we meet Mowaya, a Free Syrian Army commander and former prisoner who’s as funny and charismatic as he’s visibly fed up with the conditions around him. He takes the viewers on a telling journey through Aleppo’s abandoned neighborhoods, sarcastically quoting the Assad regime’s statement that they’ve “cleaned up” the streets. At one point, in an otherwise deserted neighborhood, he spots a stray cat and, in a powerful concluding scene, he jokes that VanDyke should put the cat’s picture online—so the outside world can have sympathy at least for the animals, if not for the Syrian people.

VanDyke’s passion for his subject is apparent throughout the film. He traveled to the Middle East to join the Libyan National Liberation Army to fight against Muammar Gaddafi—landing himself in an Arab prison in the process. Today, he fights via alternative means: his art.

He explains through the film in few scenes and words how it’s possible that 93,000 deaths have resulted from a conflict that has so far lasted two years—with no clear end in sight. A longer picture might be able to tell a fuller story, though the relative brevity of this short manages to both leave an impact and compel the viewer to find out more.

Playing as part of shorts program 1 June 20, 3:15 PM, at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, and June 23, 10 AM at the Newseum.