Below you can find director Iara Lee’s responses to frequently asked questions about The Suffering Grasses.

Regarding the title of the film, what is the story behind elephants warring and killing grass? Do elephants in the wild try to destroy the grass of their enemies?

The title of our film is based on an African proverb, “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” The idea is not that elephants in the wild destroy the grass of their enemies intentionally. Instead, the idea is that when two large entities charge, ram, and wrestle with each other, the grass below them invariably gets trampled and torn.

In the case of our film, we sought to look at the crisis in Syria from the perspectives of refugees. These people have different opinions about the conflict. But, regardless of their views, they have gotten caught in the crossfire between warring parties. The refugees are the proverbial “grasses.” The “elephants” in this metaphor include state actors and foreign powers that are trying to use the conflict in Syria to advance their geopolitical interests. While these large entities maneuver to secure geopolitical advantage, ordinary people are having their lives shattered. The trampling of the “grasses” is creating a human rights and refugee crisis. That is the message we are trying to convey with the film’s title.

Could you provide some background on the Syrian refugee situation and what inspired you to make a film about it?

The humanitarian and refugee crisis in Syria is one of the most urgent in the world today. In the month of August 2012 alone, over 100,000 people fled the country to escape the violence. I went to the refugee camps in Turkey that house tens of thousands of Syrians in exile, with the expectation of making a short film and bringing some attention to the situation. I had fully expected that the camps’ residents would be frustrated and angry, but could never have guessed how polarized people’s opinions would be. It soon became clear that the issues were too complex and the diversity of opinions too great to capture in a brief piece.

What was your biggest challenge in the production of your film?

Central to The Suffering Grasses is the question of what is to be done. The film both looks at the uprising from the perspective of the conflict’s refugees and explores the question of whether to take up arms or to commit to nonviolent resistance. Many of those I interviewed were nonviolent activists who stood resolutely by their decision not to bear arms. Others felt that the Free Syrian Army was their only hope of defeating the brutal Assad regime.

Though I can sympathize with those who turn to armed uprising out of despair and frustration, I come down strongly on the side of supporting nonviolent resistance. In my opinion, armed conflict plays to the strengths of the oppressive regime and allows them to justify violence against civilians, refugees, and peaceful protesters. An armed uprising is also more acceptable to interference by outside powers than is a movement based in civil society, which can draw strength from international solidarity without being compromised by foreign governments.

Because I believe so firmly in nonviolent resistance, it was at times difficult to give opposing voices a fair say in the film. While in the end I still disagree with their view, I think the final product is much stronger due to the respect shown to those with differing opinions.

What impact do you hope the film will have?

By watching the film, people are exposed to more information about the Syrian conflict in all its complexity. As a result, we hope that members of the general public will be moved to take action–whether that means making a contribution to help refugees, extending their solidarity to nonviolent pro-democracy activists, or helping to educate others about human rights issues in the region.


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