The War Show – Movie Review

The War Show – NR
Release Date: Wed 26 Oct 2016

Before I knew any better, I imagined a weekend full of documentaries to be very hard to stomach. One heavy subject matter after another with a majority of stories falling on the depressing end of the spectrum. Of course, documentaries got that reputation for a reason, but my experience with the True/False festival has shown me that documentaries cover a much broader spectrum than that. They can be funny, heartening, hopeful, light… essentially all the things you wouldn’t expect.

But if I had begun my first True/False with a movie like The War Show my fears for a grueling weekend of darker subject matter would have only been kindled.

Not that The War Show is all dark. In fact, it has its moments of hopefulness and humor. But if you wanted me to point you to a film that shows the dark reality of today’s world, you wouldn’t need to look much further.

Told in 7 distinct chapters, (mostly distinct due to the black screens in between), the story follows a group of 20 somethings in modern day Syria from the earliest days of the conflict there, through present day. In the beginning, there is a sense of wry hope as the young men and women begin to speak out against a regime that has smothered their sense of basic civil liberties. They are just beginning to protest, but they do it with minimal fear and the occasional smiles.
But as the regime ups the ante on oppressive tactics, the tone shifts dramatically and smiles turn into fear. Moving about with regime-forbidden cameras are akin to carrying a stick of dynamite. If spotted, it’s liable to get you arrested, or worse, shot. The camera are forbidden in an attempt to nip the revolution in the bud. What can’t be communicated, can’t be organized, and thus the message is controlled.

So a good ratio of the film is spent in shaky camera land, with gun fire, bombs, chanting and gruesome war wounds. What makes this digestible, however, are the glimpses into the lives of the films subjects before the shit hit the fan. The contrast between ruined city streets and deafening gunfire and playful walks on the beach is staggering. These references to an easier time look quite familiar, and serve to make the realities of lives turned upside down hit extremely close to home.

The War Show is hard to digest. In addition to the gruesome subject matter, the through line of the central characters is fuzzy, which plays as just another way the war has scattered their sense of reality. It’s the kind of film you don’t watch because you want to. You watch it because you should.

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