Screening: The Suffering Grasses – Iara Lee

Director and activist Iara Lee’s new film The Suffering Grasses caused more than a stir at the Frontline Club on the 7th September. Returning to the very start of this protracted and continuing struggle – graffiti scrawled by children on a wall in Deraa – the 52 minute piece documented the conflict through the eyes of the people who’ve suffered most.

Lee’s film first re-visited the initial stages of the Syrian uprising, which began as peaceful demonstrations over the detainment of the Deraa children, mixed with calls for freedoms. Setting the government response in context, Lee borrowed footage from a Syrian theatre company which showed two men discussing the 1982 Hama massacre under Hafez al-Assad. 30 years on, the same men remain in the same setting, having the same discussion. Only the names of the towns and dates have changed.

As well as showing peaceful forms of resistance to Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the form of Syrian hip-hop music, Lee interviewed mothers so committed to the removal of the government that they were prepared to sell their homes in order to buy arms. The sense of this unfaltering commitment was clearest in the Turkish refugee camps, where Lee spent weeks speaking to those that had fled the escalating war. It’s clear from the scenes that children of primary school age are becoming politicised, a point that Lee later reinforced in her Q&A session with the audience. In the film’s poignant final scene, a group of young children sing the song:

“My father was martyred and my mom,

My brother was jailed

What’s happening in my country?

Even my dreams die inside of me”

Lee joined the audience via Skype for an animated debate that touched on the international politics surrounding the conflict and the propaganda war that rages alongside.

Responding to accusations that the FSA are committing violent acts equal to those of the government forces, Lee reiterated her commitment to non-violent resistance but admitted it was difficult for those directly affected:

“It’s very easy for us to say we promote non-violence but when you lose your mother, your brother, your father, your children it’s very hard. They are angry. They want justice. If they don’t get justice they want revenge. It’s painful to witness but when people are angry they just want revenge.”

The Suffering Grasses portrayed a number of children and how they’ve been affected by the conflict, a decision the director defended during the debate.

“The revolution in Syria actually started with children … The thread of the storytelling in the film is through children who use their art and creativity to explain. A lot of times they’re more efficient than experts and political analysts … these kids are actually reporting on the war in a very visceral way, this girl who makes a drawing of Russian and China playing soccer and the ball is Syria, to me it says it all.”