Award-winning documentary maker Olly Lambert spends weeks living deep inside Syrian territory - with both government and opposition supporters - to explore how the two-year-old conflict is tearing communities apart. This unprecedented film witnesses first hand how the country is collapsing into a sectarian conflict and faces a bleak, Balkan-style future.
Lambert is the only western journalist to spend such an extended period filming on both sides of Syria’s sectarian and political divide. For five weeks he lived in the Orontes River Valley in rural Idlib, an almost entirely unreported frontline that is fast becoming a microcosm of what Syria will become if (or when) the regime of Bashar Al-Assad finally falls. His film is a graphic and unflinching portrait of a society cleaving apart in the face of dwindling international support, escalating violence and a growing mutual desire for revenge.
The fertile plains of the Orontes River used to be place of peaceful coexistence for Syria’s many sects and religions. But today, the river marks a sectarian frontline: on one side, the rebel Free Syrian Army holds ground in Sunni villages whose residents are calling for the fall of President Assad and his regime. But less than a mile away, Alawite villagers remain fiercely loyal to the government, and gladly host army checkpoints that almost daily fire shells and mortars into the Sunni villages across the valley.
Nearly all communication between the two sides has now broken down. Some villages just 800 metres apart are now sealed off from each other. Farmers are shot at while tending their crops and IEDs are planted on country roads. Sniper and mortar fire between villages has become a daily reality, while government artillery and air strikes only add to the mounting civilian death toll, further fuelling the anger and hatred, and forcing each community to become increasingly entrenched along sectarian lines.
Lambert films on both sides of the valley, with unprecedented access to the villages and communities on either side. With the Alawite supporters of Assad, he lives in the frontline village of Aziziya, filming inside checkpoints which are used to shell rebel villagers, even interviewing a military commander who is manning the gun position that had fired on Lambert only weeks earlier He talks to the Syrian Army commanders, Ba’ath party officials and loyalist villagers about why their support for the regime is unwavering, how they feel about the recent rupture in the social fabric of their valley, and what fate may await them if the regime falls.
On the other, opposition side, Lambert lives in the houses coming under shellfire and air strikes which kill dozens during his time there, and explored the motivations of the rebels, their increased radicalisation in the absence of any real international support, and sees the daily reality of trying to farm one’s land in a war zone. Central to the film is Ahmad, a former regime policeman turned rebel Free Syrian Army fighter, now determined to bring down the regime.
Footage of an air strike that hit civilian homes less than 300 metres from where Lambert is filming with the region's most powerful rebel leader reveals the shocking effect that Assad’s air force is having on his own population. Of the 17 killed, most were women and children, refugees from other parts of Syria that they had fled in search of safety.