By Amy McConaghy
In the summer of 2012, writer and journalist Samar Yazbek squeezed through a gap in the fence of the Turkish border and made her way back into the Syrian homeland from which she had been exiled the previous year.
On Wednesday 1 July, she joined an audience at the Frontline Club to discuss her new book, The Crossing: My Journey into the Shattered Heart of Syria, which documents this journey back to Syria as she bears witness to the devastating effects of war on the everyday lives of her fellow Syrians. Yazbek was joined in conversation by Syrian writer and broadcaster, Rana Kabbani.
By Helena Kardova
On Monday 29 June 2015, acclaimed Polish writer Mariusz Szczygiel joined an audience at the Frontline Club to introduce the film Gottland and to discuss his book of the same name. Bloomberg News writer Doug Lytle joined the panel for a discussion on Szczygiel‘s ongoing interest in Czech culture.
By Alexandra Sarabia
On Wednesday 24 May, an audience gathered at the Frontline Club for a discussion on corruption and its far-reaching implications. Sarah Chayes and Tom Burgis joined freelance journalist and host of Newshour on the BBC World Service, Owen Bennett-Jones, to talk about their experiences in Africa, Afghanistan and beyond. Chayes is an expert on kleptocracy, anti-corruption and civil-military relations, and is currently senior associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law Program and the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment. Burgis is investigations correspondent at the Financial Times and has worked extensively in Africa.
By Josie Le Blond
There’s no getting round it. Female journalists face exceptional risks when reporting events across the world. Especially as freelancers undertaking assignments alone, women must factor the dangers of gender and sexual violence into their assessments of hostile environments.
By Francis Churchill
On Monday 22 June 2015, the Frontline Club screened Mark Aitken’s new film Dead When I Got Here.
The film is centred on Josué, a former psychiatric patient who oversees the day to day running of a mental asylum in the Mexican border town of Juárez. Through Josué, Aitken tells the story of both the asylum and a town left gutted and destitute by the drug trade.
The evening was hosted by Ed Vulliamy, a writer at the Guardian and the Observer and author of award-winning book Amexica: War Along the Border Line. Vulliamy also maintains a strong connection to the city of Juárez.
On Friday 19 June 2015, the Frontline Club held a screening of the genre-defying Those Who Feel the Fire Burning, an experimental film focusing on the experiences of those who risk their lives in order to reach the shores of Europe. The audience was joined by co-producer Katja Draaijer for a discussion following the screening.
By Sara Monetta
Twenty years have passed since the beginning of the first Chechen war. How has the country changed in this period and what happened to the many men and women who fought for independence?
With this starting point, journalist and filmmaker Manon Loizeau revisited Chechnya, a country where she had previously lived and reported from during the war. The resulting documentary, Chechnya, War Without Trace, was screened ahead of its premiere on Al Jazeera on Friday 12 June to an audience at the Frontline Club.
By Francis Churchill
On Wednesday 10 June, Afghan-born photographer Zalmaï presented his latest book, Dread and Dreams, to an audience at the Frontline Club.
When he returned, after a long hiatus, to Afghanistan as part of the army of press following the US-British invasion, Zalmaï quickly realised that the Western media was not showing the human elements of the conflict. Dread and Dreams looks at both the hope and the despair of the Afghan people. Zalmaï shared insights into these images of his home country in a discussion moderated by Alexia Singh, editor-in-charge of Reuters Wider Image.
By Olivia Acland
On Tuesday 2 June, acclaimed writer and historian William Dalrymple joined an audience at the Frontline Club for a fascinating talk on his latest book, Return of a King – The Battle for Afghanistan, in partnership with the London Press Club. The work is the third volume in a series examining the history of Great Britain in South Asia during the 19th century.
By Ratha Lehall
On Wednesday 27 May, the Frontline Club hosted a preview screening of Food Chains, a documentary which gives a revealing insight into the working conditions of farm labourers in the US. The film also follows a campaign against a powerful supermarket chain led by a workers’ movement in Immokalee, Florida. The screening was followed by a Q&A with the film’s director Sanjay Rawal, and producer Smriti Keshari.
By Antonia Roupell
The Frontline Club began its June documentary programme on Monday 1 with a retrospective look at various forms of non-violent protests in the cross-media documentary, Everyday Rebellion. The film was directed by the Riahi brothers and Arman Riahi was present for a lively Q&A after the screening.
By Georgia Luscombe
Susan Sontag has been regarded by many as an intellectual and literary genius, a feminist hero and a queer icon. She went to college at 15, was married by 17, had a child at 19, gained a Master’s degree from Harvard and a fellowship from Oxford.
In her film Regarding Susan Sontag, screened at the Frontline Club on Friday 22 May, director Nancy Kates employs one of Sontag’s own passions, the medium of film, to document her life.
Opening with Sontag saying “I love being alive” (her own words spoken by Patricia Clarkson), Kates takes us on a cinematic journey with the woman who, however publicly celebrated, remained personally aloof and mysterious.
This intimate portrayal features interviews with her friends and former lovers, including Annie Leibovitz, Lucinda Childs, Harriet Sohmers Zwerling, Stephen Koch, Noel Burch and others. It won Best Documentary Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival last year and will be screening at Hackney Picturehouse on Tuesday 22 June.
“We’ve got to tell the truth about this woman,” Kates said, “She didn’t tell the truth about herself.”
Kates and her team used 130 different archives to piece together Sontag’s life. Starting at the Museum of Radio & Television in New York, she gave her researchers lists of clips to search for but said that she often found new material which shaped the film.
“Sometimes it’s the archive that drives,” Kates explained. “She was one of the most photographed people of her era.”
The film explores both the themes and the events which shaped Sontag’s life: from her early marriage; her lesbian relationships; the Vietnam War and Sarajevo; to photography, film, fiction and politics.
“It was very reluctantly that we made [the film] chronological,” Kates said, explaining that keeping it thematic was too confusing for an audience. Nonetheless, the film has a “meta-level” in the way it uses photographs, which was intended to reflect Sontag’s own way of “writing about photography and being the subject of photography.”
“We tried to show her as an icon,” Kates continued. “I don’t think it was really our job to analyse her work.”
This film is first and foremost a documentary, a collation of archival footage and original interviews, piecing together the life of a woman who was clearly influenced and inspired by many different lovers.
“It was a political act to go interview her girlfriends,” Kates explained.
When asked about whether the interviews with her former girlfriends took predominance over discussion of her work, Kates replied that: “The problem is we’re not used to seeing LGBT biographies.”
This documentary portrays the life of a woman who, despite her lifestyle, was never “out.” It treats the issue sensitively but honestly.
“People were criticising me for being open about her sexuality,” Kates said.
One of the most touching parts of the film is an interview with her sister, Judith. The production team managed to track down Judith, who was living in Hawaii, and speak to her about her relationship with Susan. Judith, her mother and step-father only found out about Susan’s terminal cancer by reading it in a newspaper. As Susan was dying, she apologised to Judith for never been truly honest with her.
“There are many people who have post-Sontag stress disorder,” Kates joked, explaining that interviewees used the film as “a form of therapy” for their “unresolved conflict” with her.
It is clear that the film was a labour of love for one of Sontag’s great admirers. “I put her on a pedestal,” Kates said, talking about her changing feelings towards Sontag during the making of the film.
“I may not understand her personally, but I understand some of the struggles she had.”
Visit the Regarding Susan Sontag website for more information.
By Antonia Roupell
Nearly three years on from President Obama’s infamous ‘red line’ statement, Syrian activist and filmmaker Orwa Nyrabia, Syrian human rights lawyer Laila Alodaat, journalist Jonathan Littell and Nerma Jelacic of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), joined an audience at the Frontline Club on Thursday 21 May. In a discussion chaired by Owen Bennett-Jones, host of Newshour on the BBC World Service, the panel discussed Syria’s increasingly fractured reality and seemingly endless turmoil. Also under discussion was the investigative work currently underway to record evidence linking the Syrian regime to the atrocities committed, in the hope that the acting parties will one day be held accountable for their crimes.
By Francis Churchill
As part of the Documenting Ukraine festival held on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 May in partnership with Open City Docs and GRAD, the Frontline Club screened the UK premiere of Anthony Butts’ work in progress: The Curious Tale of a Handmade Country.
With astonishing access, Butts followed and filmed Ukrainian rebels in the east of the country as they attempted to establish the Donetsk People’s Republic.
After the screening, Butts was joined by journalists Nataliya Gumenyuk and Oliver Carroll and Chatham House fellow Orysia Lutsevych for an in-depth discussion. The conversation touched upon economic grievances, propaganda and the escalation of the conflict.