Feras Fayyad (‘Last Men in Aleppo’ director) on going from Syrian prison to the Oscars [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Last Men in Aleppo” is a movie about “searching for hope in a country without hope,” says documentarian Feras Fayyad. The film follows a group of volunteers known as the White Helmets as they try to save the lives of hundreds of victims besieged by the Syrian civil war. Its story had a special resonance for Fayyad, who spent time in prison for simply creating art about freedom of expression in a land that prohibits it. Now he is an Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature. Watch our exclusive video interview with Fayyad above.

SEE 2018 Oscar nominations: Full list of Academy Awards nominees in all 24 categories

For years Fayyad struggled to make films under Bashar al-Assad‘s dictatorship. “As an artist and filmmaker,” he explains, “it’s not easy to say whatever you want. So you try to find alternative solutions to tell your stories.” One of those films, a documentary about a Syrian poet living in Prague called “On the Other Side,” landed Fayyad in prison for 15 months. He survived this tumultuous time “through imagination” and by trying to “create hope.”

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Upon his release, Fayyad found a country torn apart by war. Witnessing the destruction from constant bombings, he saw the White Helmets as “the people on the front lines who are using nonviolence” to “create the hope in other people.” In that way, he wished to make a film about “how the war impacts these people, and how the human beings [are] challenging the machinery of the war.”

“Last Men in Aleppo” won the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema-Documentary, the Cinema Eye Honors Award for Outstanding Achievement in Production, and the Critics Choice Documentary Award for Most Innovative Documentary. It also competes at the Independent Spirit Awards. Can Fayyad now win the Oscar?

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