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At FLIFF, unlikely hope amid 'Cries From Syria'

How did 3-year-old Alan Kurdi end up face down in the lapping surf of a Turkish beach in 2015, a lifeless symbol of the Syrian refugee horror that has unfolded in plain sight during the past six years? Why aren’t humanitarians around the world, including those in America, doing more to prevent other children from meeting the same fate?

If you find it difficult to answer either question, Evgeny Afineevsky understands. The Russian-born American filmmaker appreciates better than most the impenetrable confusion that hobbles most Americans as they look at a country carved into pieces by freedom fighters, forces loyal to president Bashar al-Assad, ISIS, Hezbollah and the Russians.

“It’s just lack of knowledge,” Afineevsky says. “As Americans, we live in a bubble, a horrible bubble. Especially now when all our news is focused around our president, what he tweeted, what drama he created.”

Believing that a better informed world will be inspired to act against the barbarism occurring in the country, the Los Angeles-based Afineevsky has made “Cries From Syria,” an unflinching collection of stories from the front lines, backed by HBO Documentary Films, that premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival.

The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival will screen the film, a follow-up to his Oscar-nominated 2015 documentary, “Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom,” on Oct. 29 and Nov. 10, when Afineevsky will be in attendance.

Drawing on hundreds of hours of film footage from Syrian activists, citizen journalists, doctors, high-ranking military defectors and ordinary citizens, Afineevsky offers a harrowing tutorial, walking his audience step by step through the obliteration of the country, a process that began with a seemingly modest act — teenagers painting anti-Assad graffiti on a wall in the city of Daraa as the Arab Spring was blossoming across the Middle East in 2011.

The Los Angeles Times calls “Cries From Syria” a “definitive document of one of the most bloody of modern conflicts.”

In carefully exposing and untangling the roles played by various heroes and villains in Syria over nearly two hours, Afineevsky puts special focus on the children who have spent most of their young lives being tortured, crushed under fallen buildings or witnessing kidnappings, school bombings, beheadings and gas attacks that have claimed parents, siblings and schoolmates.

“They are kids. It doesn’t matter what your view is toward the government or regime. It doesn’t mean you can torture and kill kids,” Afineevsky says.

If Afineevsky lingers on scenes on crushed bones and bloodied young bodies, it is to illustrate how remarkable it is that many of the children interviewed still manage to hold on to something that sounds like hope. Even refugee children abroad who have managed to avoid the fate of Alan Kurdi express a desire to return to Syria.

“It’s a lost generation of Syria, and at the same time a future generation of Syria, because one day, these kids will be rebuilding Syria,” Afineevsky says.

“Cries From Syria” is a film that must be seen and one that you may wish you could unsee.

“Cries From Syria” screens 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29, and 6:15 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10 at Cinema Paradiso Hollywood, 2008 Hollywood Blvd. Afineesky will attend the Nov. 10 screening. Tickets cost $12, $10 for seniors and $9 for students. Call 954-342-9137 or go to FLIFF.com. For more information, go to CriesFromSyria.com.

bcrandell@sun-sentinel.com

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