Matthew Heineman wins artistic freedom award for City of Ghosts
Syria's civil war has only intermittently captured the attention of the West, but documentary filmmakers are making sure the brutal conflict isn't completely ignored outside the Middle East.
The Last Men in Aleppo, directed by Firas Fayyad and co-directed by Steen Johannessen, won the top award at the prestigious CPH:DOX documentary festival in Copenhagen. The film focuses on a group of first responders, the so-called "White Helmets," who attempt to rescue their fellow citizens in the besieged city of Aleppo. Since the film's completion, government forces have largely taken control of Aleppo after years of fighting, but the civil war endures in other parts of Syria.
It is an unforgettable portrait of three reluctant heroes working to save civilians of Aleppo in the middle of the war zone.
The jury, made up of Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer and Sundance Senior Programmer Caroline Libresco among others, extolled the film for its "devastating emotional immediacy [that] plunges us into a Shakespearean tragedy of a people striving to retain their humanity in the face of impossible realities."
The Last Men in Aleppo will screen twice at CPH:DOX Tuesday night at the Grand Teatrat, at 7pm and then 9:30pm. Ticket information is available here.
The honor for Fayyad's film is its second major international award of 2017. In late January The Last Men in Aleppo won the top prize for international documentary at the Sundance Film Festival.
Among the films Last Men in Aleppo beat out for the top prize at CPH:DOX was another Syrian-themed documentary, City of Ghosts, by Oscar-nominated director Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land). Heineman didn't leave Denmark empty-handed, however. His film won the Politikens Audience Award for artistic freedom, chosen from among a total of 10 films in the festival.
The festival's F:ACT Award, reserved for a film that has "the power to change the world we exist in," went to another Syrian-themed documentary, Radio Kobanï, by director Reber Dosky.
"We have chosen a beautifully crafted film – a film about life and death, war and peace, the loss of hope in humanity and the regaining of that hope," the F:ACT Award jury said in presenting the prize. "The film is a fiercely intimate piece as well as a rigorously researched piece of citizen journalism.”
This was the 14th edition of CPH:DOX, one of the most important documentary festival's in the world. It was not held in 2016 to allow the festival to shift from its previous time slot in November to its new spot on the calendar in March.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.