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Kicking things off at this year’s WOW film festival, The War Show is quite easily one of the most powerful and deeply affecting films of 2017 so far. If you have seen or can remember the rather brilliant Oscar-nominated 2013 documentary, The Square, then this is its distant relative; a frontline account of the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring which ignited revolution in Syria.

Co-written and directed by Andreas Dalsgaard and Obaidah Zytoon, the film does an incredible job of putting names, faces and personalities to the resistance; introducing us to a group of friends and characters who are brought together by their dreams of freedom.

Described at one point by Andreas as her “chosen family”, the images of war that we often see on the news are suddenly given added resonance – especially when you consider the film’s particular preoccupation with how the conflict has affected and continues to affect the next generation.

There are a number of occasions throughout the film, in which we see demonstrations being led by the chants of young girls no older than than thirteen. It’s imagery that is altogether awe-inspiring and terribly sad, that a whole generation of young people aren’t afraid to stand up for their rights, yet shouldn’t really have to in the first place.

This is just one example of many in which see children wielding guns, chanting protests they don’t really understand and, perhaps most powerful of all, breaking down in tears at the death of a loved one who won’t be able to make it to their birthday party. It’s the kind of heartbreak that stirs the soul and stays with you long afterwards.

But as well as functioning as a compulsive representation of the people most affected by the atrocities being carried out in Syria, as well as exposing them with clarity and anger, it’s important to mention that it functions on a cinematic level as well.

Not only does it have a strong narrative construct, breaking down the group’s story into seven chapters and an epilogue which are cleverly arranged to cause the biggest emotional impact, but the way in which the film is shot puts you right there, as close as you’d like to get, on the Syrian streets.

As a result, it takes on a whole new edge, a visceral quality, in moments in which the filmmakers are hiding from the state police or being told to be careful of the snipers placed throughout the area.

Unexpectedly then, The War Show will leave you on the edge of your seat in a way in which most modern day thrillers fail to do so; the fact that all of it is real and is a daily reality for men, women and children in Syria just further hammers home the central message – this is unacceptable, this criminal and this must be stopped.

What Dalsgaard and Zytoon have achieved with their film, an angry and defiant cry for help, is nothing short of spectacular. It is one of the best documentaries of recent years, which you must seek out at the earliest opportunity.

WOW Film Festival opens at Chapter cinema in Cardiff on Friday 17 March before heading to Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Small World Theatre Cardigan, Taliesin Arts Centre in Swansea, and Theatr Clwyd in Mold. See for full details.


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