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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.

Still from Not Anymore courtesy of AFI Docs.

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.