I just spent five weeks on *both* sides of the front line in Syria - with regime soldiers and Sunni rebels. AMA.
I spent time with pro-regime Alawite civilians and soldiers, as well as ordinary Sunni villagers and rebel fighters, to get their perspective on the conflict.
It also involved nearly getting killed quite a lot.
I was making a documentary called "Syria Behind The Lines" for PBS FRONTLINE which airs TONIGHT April 9 at 10pm EST (on TV and on the FRONTLINE website).
Here's an essay I wrote for Salon about my time in Syria: http://bit.ly/150mmWm
And a clip of the aftermath of an air strike I filmed: http://to.pbs.org/ZJh3T9
1320 UPDATE - hi everyone, sorry, I am doing radio interviews now, but will check in later and answer all your questions....Thanks for checking in! Olly
1421 EST - back now, will answer as many as I can...
OK, thanks everyone for all your questions, I have to go now. But I appreciate the thought you have all given this, and there are some really interesting and important points in there. To get in touch with me direct, click the "contact" button on my website - www.ollylambert.com. Take care. Olly
Another good question. I wasn't "embedded" in any official capacity, but rebels quickly understood that I wasn't just popping in for tea one afternoon - I lived with refugees and fighters for weeks, and ran the same risks as they did. As such, they would trust me quite quickly.
And I'm sure they regarded me as a potential propaganda machine - people would often approach the camera and make speeches or cite "facts" that were not verifiable. And obviously I decided what went into the film.
Do you think there is any possibility of a peace between the two, or is it only going to end when Assad is ousted or the Rebels are crushed?
It did seem clear that a "peace" between the two sides is now almost impossible. Too much blood has been spilled for either side to countenance sitting down with the other. Most rebels and those who support the revolution are fiercely opposed to having to deal with Assad given the way he has cracked down on the revolution and the protests. And on the regime side, there's increasingly a profound sense that they are locked in a fight to the death, and that regime supporters would be wiped out in the event that the government fell. It's a very bleak state of affairs...
Do you think it's the case that the rebels would wipe out regime troops after they fell? In the manner of hunting them down and executing them?
What kind of Political/Legal legitimacy or integrity to the rebel leaders have?
The rebels I met were not that bloodthirsty, and the more enlightened ones do understand that many soldiers are unable to defect even though they may not want to. But with each passing day, it does get harder and harder for rebels to countenance having any kind of peace deal with regime soldiers. The rebels have created their own legitimacy. Mainly their power comes from their ability to win the respect of those around them. Political and Legal legitimacy will be something they will all fight if / when the regime falls.
What methods are being utilized by the regime to prevent defection by troops (at respective levels of rank), and what percentage do you estimate would either (1) defect or (2) cease hostilities/leave the country if they were able to?
It's well known that the regime monitors telephone calls made by soldiers. Also there are numerous checkpoints all across regime-controlled Syria. You can't just leave you base and drive home. And regime bases only show regime TV stations, which are incredible propaganda. As for the percentage of potential defectors or refugees, I really do not know I'm afraid.
Who is responsible for the car bombings which have ended so many lives?
Are the car bombings not acts of terrorism?
Yes, absolutely, the car bombings are acts of terrorism. Both sides have carried out car bombings and terrorist attacks in order to gain an advantage.
Yes. The media is convinced that Syria is swimming in Al Quaeda terrorists. This isn't the case. That's a story that sells very well in the West, because we love reading about nemesis. I didn't meet a single foreign fighters in the three weeks I was there. They do exist in Syria, sure, but not in the numbers you would think.
Do you say that they do not exist in large numbers because you didn't see them or because of something else? Is it possible that the rebel groups say what they need to say to outsiders to gain support? Tell the fundraisers in Saudi Arabia they are fighting for a Sunni state and then tell the Western journalist that this is only about Assad? (Thank you for putting yourself in danger so that we can understand what is going on)
I didn't see any foreign fighters, and I think their presence is exaggerated by the West, the regime and also the foreign fighters themselves.
How are the fighters getting on with american personnel providing "not lethal assistance and training"? I assume these are different than Al-Queda fighters.
good point. I don't think the training is taking place on Syrian soil.
And I'm sure the US is terrified of training up fighters that may turn against them. That's the main reason, I suspect, for the lack of western foreign intervention.
How many times did you think "This is just too dangerous...what the hell am I doing?"
Quite a lot! After three weeks, I had had 3 very close calls (the air strike on Al Bara being only one of them). The worst was the final 24 hours, when I was filming people buying vegetables in a market, which suddenly came under sustained mortar fire from regime bases. I decided to leave the following day, but at 1.30am, mortars began landing around the house I was staying in. They landed horribly close, but all I could really do was pull the blanket up over my head. I left at 5.30 that morning.
It's got to be hard, knowing that while you can leave, everyone else you know is stuck there. I can't imagine living in a country where PTSD is the normal state off affairs for everyday citizens! What was the mindset of the people there? Did they seem to take it in stride, or was there noticeable trauma?
I don't think anyone really "gets used to" violence like that. People sort of absorb it, make it part of their lives. Many, many people I met were clearly clinically traumatised by what they were going through.
Did you ever learn why the regime soldiers chose to support the regime instead of the rebels?
There a number of reasons why people may side with the regime. By now, many Alawites and members of minorities will have become convinced that their fate is aligned with that of the regime - ie if the regime falls, they are doomed. But there may be more personal reasons. It is very difficult for soldiers to defect (their families may be fighting in the army, or they may have nowhere safe to go). Or their personal finances may be dependent on the survival of the regime - it's little reported that many middle class Sunnis support the regime. It would be interesting (if impossible) to find out how many "regime supporters" would actually want to keep the regime to remain in power IF there was a credible alternative.
The soundwork, under such conditions, is great! What setup did you use for the sound?
In the footage that you've seen, that was simply a Senheisser K6 / ME66 top mic mounted on my Sony PMW 200 camera. If you watch the film tonight, sound plays a very important part. I used two simple radio mics, using KOS11 lavalier personal mics, which produce very good sound. Glad you noticed!
Yes, I agree. This all started as a peaceful revolution against the regime, and many rebel supporters still hanker for those days when it was simply a pro / anti regime struggle. The eruption of sectarian tension is relatively recent, and paradoxically this suits the regime - it will encourage minorities to side with Assad, and see him as their bulwark against sectarian hatred and annihilation.
Do you think the regime was involved in fomenting the sectarian fighting?
Yes, I think there is no doubt about that. Sectarian tension strengthens the regime. It makes Syria's many minorities look to the regime to defend them, and allows the regime to be righteous about its "defence" of the Syrian people.
How do you comment on the many car bombings and sporadic executions performed by rebels that we keep hearing of? Do you think they will ever be charged as terrorists?
Both sides have committed atrocities, but all evidence suggests that the regime has committed many more. I think it will be complex next chapter in Syria's history - how they deal with people who have committed extra-judicial killings or terrorist attacks. On both sides.
Which side do you feel is in the right?
I don't think that it is a case of which of these "two sides" are "right". It's way more complex than that. The violence meted out by Assad is certainly far, far greater than that which the rebels have or have been able to dish out. But that doesn't mean that the rebels are right. There is no unified rebellion any longer.
The fundamental question is how to bring it to an end.
How did you manage to get this job? I'm about to start college, and am interested in journalism/reporting jobs like what you've done here. Do you have any advice for someone trying to enter this field?
My advice is always to start with what you know. Don't feel you need to travel a million miles for a story. Often, great stories are within reach of you right now, and you may be able to get close to them in a way other's can't.
Also, always ask yourself why other people would or should be interested in the story you want to tell. You might think something is interesting, but why would someone else? In Syria Behind The Lines, I did try to tell the stories of ordinary people who could be you or me if the same environment erupted around us.
In the 36 minute video about the bombing at al-Bara (sp?), there was a man who made a speach (he opened the van door to show where wounded people had been bleeding) about how he was going to take revenge on the Alawites. Is this conflict about personal enmities that are being acted out or is it a political conflict?
That's a good question. The desire for revenge and retribution certainly started out as something localised - perhaps a desire for revenge from one particular village or family. But with each passing day, it does seem like people are thinking more and more broadly about the people they want to take revenge on.
Unlike the revolution in Libya, why does it seem that there has been very little interevention from outside forces?
Not sure. It's possibly more delicate than Libya - Syria is supported by Russia and Iran. So the diplomatic stakes are a lot higher. Syria also borders on Israel, so it's a potential powder keg.
The United Nations passed two security council resolutions to intervene in the Libyan situation (UN res 1970 and 1973). Res 1970 marked the very first time in history that a nation was unanimously referred to the International Criminal Court. This is in stark contrast to the situation in Syria as both Russia and China have veto power on any SC resolution, hence nothing approaching the same measures taken in Libya have been approved. As to why China and Russia have consistently vetoed any intervention, you'll have to ask them.
That's interesting, thanks.
That's interesting. Thanks.
Do the rebels have plans of what will happen if they topple the Al Assad regime, or has no one thought that far?
There is no clear consensus of "what next" if / when the regime falls, no.
Thank you for the video about the bombing at al-Bara. I know some people who are calling for revolution in the good ol' USA. i am going to send them your al-Bara video because it really shows how awful the aftermath of violence on such a massive scale really is for the ordinary people who are affected by the fighting. The scences you filmed could have been people in the London Blitzkreg or the Vietnam War. What you showed was the futility of the violence, how individuals are ground up like paper in a shredder, nothing noble at all about it. And for a political cause? What a waste! And those houses (in al-Bara) looked like they were made of some fairly substantial masonry, that must have been some fairly large ordinance that was dropped on ordinary homes and shops. When these events were happening, how did you stifle your immediate feelings so you could keep on working rather than run for cover?
You did a great public service by staying to film there, it must have been so scary at the time. Did the feelings of fear or numbness come back again when you were editing the video?
Thanks fella. It's odd - when I recorded that commentary for the Bombing of Al Bara footage, I hadn't really watched it through as intensely as that for a long time. And in a way I was more shocked and shaken by what I saw then than what I felt at the time. I wrote a piece for Salon recently (the link is above) about that weird disconnect in my own head when filming this - on the one hand the keen filmer, on the other, a rather shaken young man. Both those attitudes need each other, but they pull in very different directions.
Thank you for answering. This AMA is intrigueing. Not that it matters but I'm a woman, pushing 60 years old. As such, I have to ask: what has YOUR family's reaction been about your work? I bet your parents were holding back the bile from fear when they saw this video of al-Bara.
Yes, that's always a complicated one from a personal point of view. I'm always a bit vague with my mother about what I'm doing. I always tell her it won't be that dangerous. She was a bit cross when she saw the final film (muttering "I'll never believe you again!"). It's harder with my girlfriend and our two kids, who are both in their teens. I rang my girlfriend the night of the Al Bara bombing, and for a while she was very angry that I even considered staying out there a minute longer. But I have a very understanding home life - I think the people around me recognise that it's important to tell these stories.
It's nice to see that lying to mom never changes when it comes to risking one's personal safety.
Yes, it's a time honored tradition in my family too.
Hello, can you tell me what kind of specific help the Syrian people want, if any, from the international community? I suspect that an enforced No Fly Zone from the UN would be a start but is further intervention something actual Syrians desire?
Well, it depends who you ask. Regime loyalists see the civil war as almost entirely created and maintained by the international community!
Rebels obviously want a load of weapons, and more importantly a no fly zone. The latter is something that I think would make a real difference in Syria.
A no-fly zone is a no-brainer. It was the very first UN resolution implemented in Libya and saved hundreds if not thousands of lives.
I do agree. A no fly zone would save lives immediately.
Did you meet any "wartourists" or whatever you call them? People with no real connection to Syria and the war that had traveled there to join the fight and fight along side the rebels?
If so, did they give you any reason to have traveled there and why they were fighting?
I didn't meet them, but there are a few well known faces. It's terribly misguided.
Hello Olly, As someone not familiar to the Syrian conflict I have a couple of questions I would like to ask!
1)In the clip "Aftermath of an air strike" a call of revenge was given threating Alawites and Bashar of the vengeance to come, my question is what are the Alawites and how are they involved with Bashar.
2)What was one of the things you saw in Syria that you wish you caught on camera to show the rest of the world. 3)Why do you think russia and china still back up the Syrian regime instead of the people?
4)I noticed that in the preview you mentioned how disorganized everything was, I was just wondering that if Assad was to step down, who do you think will lead the syrian people? Is it even clear?
Thanks for the AMA!
The Alawites are a religious sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam. Assad is an Alawite, and the Alawites have dominated Syria for over 40 years. (Assad came to power in 2000 - before then, his father was in power for about 30 years).
2 - I think the air strike that you have seen is the thing I most wanted seen.
3 - I don't know.
4 - There is a lot of negotiating (some may call it "in fighting") about who is "leading" the rebels. The most impressive guy to my mind is a guy called Khatib.
Watching your Al-Bara bombing video just left me stunned. I have watched a lot of videos from Syria, but this one was quite something else. And of course want to thank you for making this visible to us.
I want to know is did you ever feel that your life was in danger from the rebels themselves? Was there ever a sense they might take you hostage, or let their anger out on you as a "westerner"? I am mainly wondering how they relate to someone coming from the outside, and how safe are you in general amongst them?
Not really. A few people got angry were angry with the West for not doing more, and they shouted at me for that. And one night some guys with guns came to our house and dropped hints that we "might" get kidnapped. But I think they just wanted some money. (We didn't give it to them). Overall, Syrians are overwhelmingly generous, hospitable people. That is much forgotten.
Yeah I have actually read that/seen it in a few documentaries I have watched on Syria. Them being Generous and Hospitable that is.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. I still can't tell you how impressed I am with your work. Very very important that we have people like you in our world.
Thanks very much, appreciate your interest.
Did you notice a Western/American presence?
No, none at all in the areas I stayed in.
There are rumours of a handful of western special forces operatives in Syria acting in an advisory role, but I've seen no evidence of it.
Will it air on the Frontline website worldwide? Or only for American IP's?
It will be available on the FRONTLINE website for everyone other than the UK at 10 pm ET tonight. It will be broadcast in the UK on April 17th at 10pm on Channel 4.
Well, as a french, thanks Frontline then.
As an english, you are welcome.
I've read many reports that Al-Qaeda associated groups such as the ‘al Nusrah Front were fighting with the rebels in Syrira, at the behest Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia.
Furthermore, many reports of massive arms transfers out of Croatia, from NATO, to the FSA and other rebel groups, from November 2012 to February 2013, seem to indicate this took place. This transfer took 75 planes and consisted of 3,000 tons of weaponry.
What did you see, if anything, that supports the claims that Western powers, mostly through the use of intelligence agencies, are fighting a proxy war in Syria through the rebels, against the Assad regime?
There are certainly credible reports of Croatian arms coming into southern Syria, though I've not heard them being imported in those numbers.
Personally, I saw nothing like this in my time there. The area I lived and worked in is populated by fighters who are exclusively local people fighting for their country in their own way.
There is always a risk of a proxy war. But it does seem to me that it is the fear of a proxy war that is stopping Western powers get involved in any significant way.
How are ethnic minorities like Armenians doing in Syria? I think they are sympathetic to Assad but you would know better then I.
I didn't meet any Armenians, but did meet Turkmen, Alawites and Christians. The minorities are in very difficult situation in Syria, and often have to tread very carefully between the two sides.
I am always interested in the Syrian's thoughts/opinions on Russia and Iran. I watched the Frontline documentary and heard a lot of the victims questioning why isn't the UN helping more. Do they understand why the UN (Security Counsel) haven't acted because of Vetos from Russia and China? Do they understand that Russia and Iran are still supplying arms and support to Assad? What are their views/opinions on why their Muslim/Arab neighbors ( Jordan/Iraq/Saudi...etc) have not supported their cause?
That's a good point, and perhaps those people who express anger towards the UN don't understand the veto that Russia and China can employ in the security council. Really it all adds to a sense that the international community have let them down.
I found it fascinating when you met Ahmed, do you have a link to where he publishes?
What can you say to any potential guerrilla reporters who might find themselves in a position to document situations and events?
Ahmad hasn't got a decent internet connection, so I've not seen any videos that he has uploaded - mainly he gives them to friends on USB sticks to upload, so they could be anywhere.
You can find him on facebook though: https://www.facebook.com/xshekh.ahmadx?fref=pb or copy and paste this Arabic name into your "find friends" box.
أحمد فهد الحمدو You'll see a picture of a man with a sword....
ps what do you mean "guerilla reporters"? If you mean you want to just show up in Syria, I would very very very strongly advise against it.
I am amazed you made this and made it out alive as well, kudos to you! I'll be watching frontline 2nite. I've been looking forward to this show for a bit now. Thank you for your amazing efforts.
No problem. I hope it sheds some light on it all.
Is it possible to watch this on the internet from, say, Europe?
Yes, everywhere except the UK. It will be available tonight, 10pm Eastern Standard Time in the US.
The video of the aftermath of the bombing of al-Bara was incredibly powerful. Thank you for being there to capture and share it with us.
How did you get into Syria on each of your trips?
Did you enter the country and move officially while filming pro-government soldiers?
What was it like dealing with constant armed checkpoints while traveling?
Thanks very much!
On the rebel side, I traveled over the Turkish / Syrian border, and then travelled with rebel fighters from village to village to get to the valley that is the main filming location. When I had finished there, I returned to London via Turkey, and then a few weeks later flew to Beirut and travelled back to the loyalist villages in the valley from a completely different route, via Damascus.
On the regime side, yes, I was there officially with a visa, and had two security officials with em.
I had no problem with the checkpoints.
I said "Yalla", which is Arabic for "let's go".....
I'm interested in the rebel's and regime's opinions on their international aid - I'm sure both receive weapons and training from other states and persons outside Syria, did you see any foreigners training or embedded with troops or a significant presence of foreign-made weapons? Perhaps discussions on foreign funding sources? Russia and Iran and the UK/US/France are the obvious ones, of course, but are there any less overt interests?
Also wondering how prevalent the Jihadists or extreme right-wing Muslims are on the rebel side - did you see any at all? I take it that the rebels are happy to accept anybody willing to join the struggle against the regime? What kind of state do you see the rebels creating, a moderate Islamic one in a similar mold to the Muslim Brotherhood?
There are foreign fighters, but not in the areas I visited. I only met one person who expressed a more fundamentalist Islamic view, and he was extremely unpopular and shouted down and virtually expelled by the guys I was with. They hated him.
I saw no training by foreigners no.
The key to understanding the growth in radicalism is that after two years, the rebels will fall in with any group or ideology that gives them strength, either mental or material. And right now, Jabhat al Nusra is the main actor....
From your experience, are the airstrikes random or targeted? Thank you for the documentary.
I don't think any air strike is "random".
On the day of the bombing of Al Bara, there were a number of air strikes on rebel villages in the area. There were many more the following day.
Regime loyalists often talk about how villages in rebel hands are "incubating environments" for rebels, and are therefore legitimate targets. I think on the day I was there, there were just bombs dropped on a number of rebel held villages. It's highly likely this could be called "collective punishment", which is against the Geneva Convention.
So it's kind of like, "Someone reported there are rebels in that town, drop some bombs." Sounds like an easy way to gain enemies. Assuming the rebels are advancing, this strategy will lose them the war.
How do the loyalists discern a town being in rebel hands?
Also, do the rebels carry this mindset as well?
Yes, absolutely, an easy way to gain enemies.
It's very clear when a town is in rebel hands. Villages and towns change hands a lot - when the army withdraws its forces on the ground, the rebels will usually take over and establish a presence.
What's the most heartbreaking event you witnessed there?
The air strike on Al Bara had a profound effect on me.
I feel uncomfortable talking about this, as I'm incredibly lucky to have been able to walk away from that, not just alive, but away from the country. The people around me are really just stuck in the war zone.
But the boy crying about his grandparents will always stay with me.
what interested you in going to syria? every filmmaker has a story they're trying to tell - what was the syrian story? do you have plans to go back? did you meet with peaceful activists?
thank you for sharing the experience!
I've always been interested in ordinary people who are caught up in an extraordinary situation. That extraordinary situation could be a child going through a divorce in Ohio, or a young Syrian suddenly becoming a rebel fighter. It's often by focusing on these small stories that the big story becomes clear. I always say to documentary students - find the smallest window with the biggest view.
I did meet a handful of peaceful activists, yes. But they are struggling to be heard over the sound of the weapons.
i think the work you've produced is amazing, and i'm so happy you made it out safely. i am an american who was recently in Syria, and I understand the stress you were under (to some degree), and the technical difficulties and limitations you must've faced as a filmmaker in a war zone.
your last point got me thinking about the people who are struggling to be heard. if you go back, i hope you will amplify their voices by turning the camera toward them as well. i think that is a story the world needs to hear. thank you again.
Yes, I agree. Thanks for the question.
Thank you very much for your work reporting this.
Based on what you saw, would you say that there is a united, coherent Free Syrian Army, or instead a collection of dispersed, disorganized factions all fighting against the same enemy?
From what I've been reading, everything tends toward the latter. No one has effectively consolidated power amongst the rebel groups, and no two organizations can give you the same picture of what they hope to accomplish once Assad has fallen -- if they even have a plan. Old leaders are consistently replaced with new ones, and Islamist movements are becoming increasingly more prevalent.
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Sorry, I thought I replied to this one. It's definitely a very dispersed organisation, with little central leadership. In a sense, that's what gives it its strength. There is no "head of the snake" that Assad can cut off.
Does part of you regret going and experiencing all of that?
Do you speak Syrian Arabic?
No, not at all. Well, about 10 words....
Yes. Check out the film tonight. The area I stayed in is very, very beautiful. But there is almost daily shelling there, too.
Why do you ask? That's a very, very big question...
I couldn't possibly, possibly comment.
Did you hear any stories of the supposed use of chemical munitions by the government there? I remember reading about it on the internet but never saw if it was confirmed or not.
It definitely hasn't been confirmed, and there is no evidence for it.
The regime did try and convince the UN that the rebels had used chemical weapons, but it almost certainly not true, and the UN did warn them not to try this as a tactic to get them involved in that way. The explanation of how this could have been a rebel use of CW was nigh on impossible. Most likely, a regime or rebel rocket exploded a chlorine container that injured civilians. it's almost certain that this was consequently exploited by the regime for propaganda purposes.
Is there any point at all in the fighting? I can't figure it out. I realize Assad isn't a great guy, but is the alternative?
There's rarely any point in fighting. The only thing it seems to do is harden one's resolve.
By the way FRONTLINE does amazing things. I am always so impressed with how current yet well done the stories usually are. I will set the DVR.
If you don't mind a follow-up: Given that you learned there isn't any point in the fighting, do you feel as if risking your life to tell the story was worth while? I'm sure there is good that can come of the story.
I'm not sure what there is for anyone to do in a no-win situation like this. Its a poor analogy, but as a parent, sometimes I find it best to avoid intervening in my children's disputes so they learn to work out problems themselves. It is horrible to stand by and watch people kill each other and themselves, but what is helping and what are the consequences of intervening?
Well, I have two thoughts on that.
Firstly, I sincerely believe that revealing the world to people is good. We need to look at or even confront the world we live in, or we might as well all just go to sleep. Journalism is part of that process.
As for disputes - I agree with you on a domestic level. But when thousands of people are killing thousands of people, I like to believe that we have some responsibility to get involved, even if that just means understanding it. Looking away and waiting for the killing to, kinda, sort itself out - I really hope that's not where we are headed.
First, thank you for all of your hard work. your bravery in covering these stories is much appreciated. My questions are this:
1) Is there tension between peaceful rebels, militaristic factions, and those caught in the middle of it all?
2) If so, how would you characterize it?
Edit: Cause spelling
Yes, I think that's natural. Syria has been ruled very firmly for decades. It's only in the last two years that people have woken up to realise that they may have a say in the country they want to be. And this can be a difficult process. I met many Syrians in Jordan who were brimming with excitement at the idea of having some self-determination.
In the areas I visited, there were no foreign fighters - when one guy started talking about a "jihad", he was practically chased from the room. But these elements are undoubtedly growing stronger.
Did you ever meet James Foley?
What do you think about his capture by un identified gunmen in Syria last November while freelancing for the GlobalPost?
No I never met him. It's a very sad story. i do hope he gets out OK.
I just watched the film clip in the OP, some of the most moving footage I have seen in a long time although there were some doubts.
Did you ever wet yourself? Do you still have any contact with people, any news?
*And yet they still say 'Allah Akbar'..
Yes, when the jet returned, I ever so slightly pissed in my pants, thanks for asking.
I am still in touch with Ahmad, who features in the main documentary. He has been injured a few times, and wants to join Jabhat al Nusra, an Islamic faction aligned with Al Qaida.
Ha! Yep, sorry. I don't want to spin you an untrue happy ending though!
Have you witnessed incidents that clearly contradict the coverage that we receive in the U.S.?
Yes. It's not awash with foreign fighters. They are an influential minority. But it was Syrians who began this rebellion, and I hope it is Syrians that will finish it.
A couple months ago Robert King said that with every passing day the regime is another step closer to falling; do you subscribe to this belief as well? If so (or if not) why do you believe this?
I don't agree at all. While a lot of battles are taking place and a lot of munitions are being used, Syria is in deadlock at the moment. Neither side is able to win, and neither is going to lose. I spent time in Damascus and met regime officials. They don't feel threatened, and Damascus is incredibly well defended.
What's life like for the average Syrian civilian? It just seems that from the media coverage we get here in the UK, that the regime is a bad one.. But if people are fighting for the regime, how much is it truly liked/disliked?
Have tried to answer below why people might be supporting the regime....
Did you have trouble with the second group you joined after having already been on the front line for the first group? (not sure which came first)
No. Each trip was entirely separate.
Did you tell them of your plans to visit both sides?
No. They didn't ask.
What do the rebels and the regime soldiers say about the future of Syria? Certainly the regime soldiers don't believe the assad's can go back to ruling the way they did! Also, what did the Christians have to say?
Check out the film when it is broadcast - that does come up a lot.
Broadly, both sides involved in the fighting seem to see it now as a fight to the death. As one loyalist said to me, "you either win, or you die".
The regime is certainly fighting to keep Assad in place, and given his recent announcements, Assad seems to have no intention of going anywhere, let along stepping down. On the rebel side, it's very hard for people who have lost so many people at the hands of Assad for them to even consider having Assad at the negotiating table, or for him to have any place in a future Syria.
Thanks for your great Salon article. I shared it with a bunch of friends. How did you look out for your security in terms of kidnapping? What precautions did you take to avoid that situation?
I could write for hours about the security precautions we had to take. Each trip required a 60 page risk assessment, detailing what I would do in the event of anything dangerous, from driving a car to getting bombed. I had to think through everything in advance, and write it down. Where would I get treated if injured, how would I travel, where would I stay. It was a very lengthy process. But worth it in the end. It meant that when I arrived in Syria, I could concentrate on making the film, as I'd already considered what I would need to do if things went wrong.
Hey Olly. I'm a long time freelance photographer/videographer and was always fascinated by war journalism. I'm seriously contemplating embedding with the US military in Afghanistan for an extended period of time. Do you have any advice to a potential war correspondent?
Well firstly, do it quickly, as the US are about to pull out!
Do you think that, if the rebels win, they would be friendlier to the us?
Are the rebels all "good" as how the media seem to be portraying them?
There's a growing sense of disillusionment with the West among the rebels. Many cannot understand why the US is not getting involved.
I don't think anyone is portraying the rebels as "all good". At all. There are some dangerous, extreme elements amongst the rebels, who have carried out summary executions, kidnappings. This isn't as simple as goodies and baddies.
You have balls of steel, in the search for truth no less.
I am an old man and you are my hero and hope for the future.
Hey man! Good to hear. Thanks very much.
What do regime soldiers eat versus Sunni rebels?
Where the fuck do the rebels get their ammo?
Have you actually taken a pot shot at anyone, knowing that nobody would ever find out if you accidentally killed someone?
When do these people find the time to sing?
Who let you out?
what kind of video camera were you useing when you shot the gathering in the house and the bombing aftermath? ok never minde,i saw you posted it on the question about the audio .
Almost all the film was shot on a Sony PMW 200 camera http://www.sony.co.uk/pro/product/xdcamcamcorders/pmw-200/overview For the scenes when I had to use a smaller camera, I used a Sony NX70.
At several points during the Al-Bara video, the people there constantly directed you of what to film. Were there any things (besides that one time where you were asked not to) you were told you couldn't film on the rebel side? Were there any concerns by people of being filmed and identified later, or does it not matter because of the state of the conflict?
Also, have you yet had a sit down interview with Ahmad, or were you constantly on the move the whole time, only stopping to eat/rest?
Oh yes, lots. I filmed with him a lot for the final documentary. Check it out tonight. I lived in a handful of villages, usually moving on every few days.
People were generally OK about me filming. The regime side didn't want me to film the tanks and artillery pieces they had. But I accidentally filmed them, and accidentally put them in the final film.
As for people's identities - it was very important that people can give "informed consent", ie they consent to be filmed and understand clearly what they are consenting too. This is always important, but more so here, as filming someone who doesn't want to be filmed may genuinely put their lives in danger, so no one was ever filmed against their will.
The footage from the Al-Bara bombings felt to me like the most unbiased first hand reporting to come out of the Syria Civil War. Thank you for putting your life at risk for the sake of journalism.
I would like to know how "embedded" you felt in the rebel's cause. Did they acknowledge the risks you were taking and incorporate you into their struggle as a participant, or do you feel at all times they regard you as their propaganda wing meant for outside exposure, therefore limiting the variety in your filming?
Once again, thank you.
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