Yasmin Fedda's documentary exposes the horrors of Syria's disappeared, but finds warmth in the strength of the survivors
Even amongst the myriad crimes inflicted upon Syria’s people since Bashar al-Assad responded so brutally to the Arab Spring of 2011, there’s something particularly chilling about Ayouni. Yasmin Fedda’s powerful, unsparing documentary tackles the Syrian security forces’ tactic of “disappearing” anyone they deem a threat, arresting them and denying their families any access, even going so far as to refusing to confirm whether their victims are alive or dead.
In order to grapple with such an enormous, difficult subject in Ayouni’s brief 75-minute runtime, Fedda restricts her focus to two particular disappearances; dissident computer programmer Bassel Khartabil and populist priest Father Paolo Dall’Oglio. We get to know both of these men through intimate footage of their revolutionary lives – Bassel secretly uploads footage of the Syrian regime’s human rights abuses, while Paolo unites Christians and Muslims of various generations under a banner of collective kindness and freedom.
Their individual bravery shines through the screen, as does the impact they had on the people around them, Fedda introducing us to their loved ones and those that admired them both within and outside Syria. It makes for deeply affecting viewing, a film that manages to have both love and hope alongside its terror and fury.
In this latter half of the film, it’s Bassel’s wife Noura and Paolo’s sister Machi who take centre stage, two women denied their basic right to grief yet always unbowed in their fight for justice. They are inspiring protagonists, shining a vital light on issues that could be lost in the sheer volume of horror that comes out of Syria and forcing the audience to bear witness. Ayouni is tough but essential viewing.
Ayouni is now available to stream on True Story.Where to watch