First to Fall – Losing Innocence
By Ratha Lehall
First to Fall follows two Libyan young men, Hamid and Tarek, who return to Libya from Canada during the conflict in 2011. The two friends, both in their twenties, are troubled by the events in their home country, and feel that they must join the fight against Gaddafi. They soon find themselves in the middle of the fighting, despite their lack of military training. The film places the journeys of Tarek and Hamid at the centre of the larger context of the conflict, documenting their different experiences of the war.
Anderson spoke about how she met Tarek and Hamid very soon after they had arrived in Libya and was therefore able to document their experiences of joining a war and present their whole journey. Initially assigned to work in Libya for a week, she realised she wanted to stay to be able to tell the story of the rebels and their experiences of the Arab Spring, which was so different from previous conflicts in Tunisia and Egypt:
“I had finished covering the Egyptian Revolution and had a week long assignment to go to Libya, and after finishing that assignment I couldn’t leave because I saw what was happening in Libya and saw the purpose and the need to have journalists there to get the story out.”
Much of the footage of the front line was filmed by Tarek and Hamid and their friends; they filmed 100 hours of footage. Both Anderson and Grucza discussed how important it was to be able to show the film from the rebels’ perspective – to be able to witness the events as they saw them. However, as Grucza said, the scenes which Anderson filmed of the rebels while they were not on the battlefield were crucial to presenting the story:
“‘Bang bang’ footage is one thing, but you can’t make a film from it, it doesn’t make sense; in the chaos of war, even when you’re in the midst of the fight, nothing really makes sense; it’s a survival thing.”
“I care so much about what happens away from the battlefield, when they turn off their cameras. So it was really amazing for the film to be able to include what they thought was important and the moments I thought were important so that you can really get a full idea of the journey these guys went on.”
One audience member pointed out the noticeable lack of women in the fighting and movement for freedom. Anderson was asked whether she felt that her being so close to the fighters was a problem. She explained that everyone fighting recognised the need for Western journalists, for people to document and broadcast the events. As she met both Tarek and Hamid so soon after they had arrived in Libya, she was able to build a relationship with them and gain their trust. She described how important it was to be introduced by someone trustworthy.
Many of the questions asked by the audience focused on the lives of Tarek and Hamid, particularly what happened to them after the film ended and where they were now. Anderson and Grucza told the audience that they were still in touch with both men, but, sadly, they are no longer in contact with each other.
Hamid is still living in Libya, working for the government, but unhappy and disillusioned with the new Libya. While the rebels were celebrated and admired during the conflict, he describes how many are now treated poorly and labelled as ‘gangsters’. There were many regional tensions between rebel groups in the aftermath of the conflict; the groups were all united by their hatred of Gaddafi, which ended once he had been killed.
Grucza said that he believed the journey of these two friends was symbolic of the Arab Spring in general:
“The initial euphoria, . . . without contemplating what the future might hold, and that their disintegrating personal lives were symbolic of the region.”
However, he disagreed with an audience member who suggested that the end of the film would lead to the conclusion that the conflict was ‘futile’; despite the fact that Gaddafi was gone, the two central characters of the film did not have happy endings. He said that the film’s end was not the end in reality; Tarek and Hamid are small ‘pawns’ – their story is one very small piece of a much larger picture.
The film had its world premiere at IDFA in November, and was part of this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London. The screening at the Frontline Club marked the end of a week of UK screenings, but more are planned for the future. Hopefully Hamid will be able to attend a screening that is being planned in Canada so he can see the film. More information about the film and dates of any future screenings can be found on the film’s website, Facebook or Twitter.