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'Last Men in Aleppo' director discusses documentary, filmmaking techniques at Hancock College

Original article posted in Santa Maria Times..

Thirty-three-year-old filmmaker Feras Fayyad is a number of different things to a lot of people.

To Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Fayyad is a spy working for the U.S. or European countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin may consider him more of a propagandist, a position its permanent mission to the U.N. and state-owned news agency have expressed.

But to the 6,687 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Fayyad has a different title: Oscar-nominated documentarian.

On Friday afternoon, Hancock College students, staff and members of the public gathered in a classroom on the Santa Maria campus for a discussion with Fayyad about his film, "Last Men in Aleppo."

The event was organized to discuss filmmaking techniques and learn about ongoing humanitarian efforts in Syria, said Chris Hite, associate professor for film and video.

"The film was made under duress and tense situations we haven't experienced in the U.S.," Hite explained. "He was making film in an area where you can be arrested just for being a filmmaker. We wanted that exposure; we want to show them what we take for granted here ... is not the norm everywhere."

Filmed over the course of a year in the Syrian capital of Aleppo, the documentary chronicles life during the Syrian civil war and follows the day-to-day lifesaving missions of the White Helmets, a volunteer urban search and rescue group that saves individuals following military strikes on the city. The documentary is the first Syrian produced and directed film nominated for an Academy Award.

"The idea of following these citizens ... who stay [in Aleppo] to change their society [came] after I was imprisoned by Assad," Fayyad said, joking that he was charged as a "fake news" maker to justify his arrest. "When I got out, I saw destruction everywhere. I wanted to see how and why people stay in our country."

Hancock’s film and video program will screen "Last Men in Aleppo" at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival on Saturday at 3 p.m. in the Fremont Theater, with a Q&A session following.

The event is co-sponsored by Cal Poly’s College of Liberal Arts. Tickets for Cal Poly and Hancock students are $5 at the door with student ID. General admission is $15.

A percentage of all ticket sales and donations will go toward White Helmets International.

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