Images of revolution tend to resemble one another over time: mass street protests, crackdowns by riot police, unarmed protestors risking their lives against the powers-that-be. We’ve seen most of them before, and yet each time we come across them they captivate us anew.
In the Syrian documentary 5 Seasons of Revolution, some of those familiar images appear, but they’re combined with something we haven’t really seen before: lots of shots of young reporters and protesters sitting around apartments on their phones or computers, making the revolution happen online when they can’t make it happen in the streets.
5 Seasons of Revolution
The Bottom Line
An intimate firsthand account of oppression and revolt.
This is what Revolution 2.0 looks like, and it helped fuel the Arab Spring protests that swept through North Africa and the Middle East over a decade ago, reaching Syria in 2011. The response to the movement was a massive repression by President Bashar al-Assad that lead to a devastating and ongoing civil war, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of international refugees and a country that remains divided to this day.
In 5 Seasons, a young Syrian reporter who, for security purposes, goes only by the first name of Lina, put together footage she shot of herself and comrades as the revolution was going down in her homeland, chronicling a daily grind filled with tension, anticipation and lots of waiting — for friends to make it back safe from a march or from prison, or for Assad to launch another deadly attack on his own people.
Although Lina is from an upper-class family and lives safely in Damascus, danger is never far away for her and her fellow reporters/revolutionaries, who fear arrest at all times. Each time they head out the door, the risk is there, and driving around town becomes a game of trying to dodge or get through checkpoints set up by the army.
By the end of the film, Lina, the journalists Bassel and Malaz, and the activists Rima and Susu have all been detained at some point or another. All of them are forced to flee from Syria, possibly to never return, while one of them doesn’t make it out alive. 5 Seasons is thus a fly-on-the-wall portrait of a revolution as seen from the inside, but also a portrait of a young generation whose lives would be completed upended by the war.
Lina, who had just graduated from journalism school when the uprising began, bravely went out to documents events at a time when reporters were often rounded up and imprisoned by the regime. She traveled to Homs early on as it became a hotbed for the opposing FSA (Free Syrian Army), composed of soldiers who defected from Assad’s regime. Soon the government was bombing Homs on a daily basis, targeting civilians and soldiers alike in a bloody reprisal that leveled the whole city.
Lina captures some of this devastation, including a harrowing interview with an FSA fighter who was paralyzed by a sniper’s bullet. But for the most part she remains stuck in Damascus as her country gradually falls apart, occasionally arguing with her friends about whether taking up arms will help the cause or only make things worse.
Alas, we now know the answer: Assad not only cracked down on the opposition with countless bombings, gas attacks and civilian massacres, but the armed rebellion, aided by weapons provided by the U.S., divided into factions that lead to even more unnecessary bloodshed. By the time the film ends in 2015, Lina and her friends are doing whatever they can to make it out of the country in one piece.
And yet, there’s hope amid the destruction, both physical and psychological, that Lina chronicles, in a film that shows how people manage to band together against oppression in the darkest of times. This sentiment is best reflected in Lina’s close friend Rima, a vibrant young social worker who fearlessly hit the streets of Damascus brandishing a banner that read “Stop the Killing,” launching a movement that would spread to other cities.
It was a futile gesture in the face of Assad’s regime, but far from a forgotten one, and Rima became a public symbol of protest in Syria thanks to her courage. She winds up being arrested several times, including for a long prison stay where her fate remains uncertain for nearly two months. When she finally gets released during an exchange of prisoners with Turkey, she spends a night smoking cigarettes and catching up with her friends, a smile on her face. This is an image that will stay with us.