Show my face and you put me and my family in danger. The perils of filming sensitive conflict stories.
I’m back in London from being near the Syrian border — a 10 day mission with young Syrians many have been tortured by on President Assad’s wanted list, I’m told. It’s a pretty tense affair. Real life characters risking their lives in the war-torn hell of Aleppo, Syria, as activists and documenters. The group had to take a number of elaborate routes to shake any tails to get here. I’m nervous and buzzing at the same time.
Ten days on sitting at my Mac, I’m about to edit the film when I get this.
I’m Sabina (name changed for security ). We met in Adana. I totally understand the big efforts you gave to show the real crime happening to my country and to my people. We really appreciate your good intentions towards our issues. but exposing me and showing my face can threaten me and put my family in a danger.
She told us of how she’d recently filmed a woman torn by shrapnel hurriedly being placed in a battered car which sped off to a makeshift hospital 20 minutes away. The work, she expressed on camera made her question her existence, filming mutilated bodies, witnessing the endless suffering and being hounded by militia and with no outlet to offload her pain.
For a moment, I became her outlet, relying on my years of BBC training working in conflict zones — the townships in South Africa in 1992–94. She was allowed her to express herself while I probed gently.
She was wrought with emotion. She had signed a release form but now wanted out. In an age where discretion seems an unwieldy sentiment and privacy or secrecy seem arcane against the backdrop of social media free-for-alls, some codes of conduct should remain. There was no question about it. Even though her removal from the project meant we had to drop the film entirely, some things, e.g. trust need preserving.
Sabina, not her real name, was not alone. In this photo below which is superimposed on the trailer Gen Syria, almost all of the videojournalists have had a run-in with authorities. Today, our thoughts are with them wherever they may be.
This piece has been modified from an earlier story written three years ago
David Dunkley Gyimah is a filmmaker, journalist, coder and educator who has filmed in high risk zones in South Africa, Lebanon, Tunisia and Egypt. He’s a former BBC, ABC News and Channel 4 News producer/journalist. He is the recipient of a number of International awards and holds a PhD from University College Dublin in the formation o. More on David @viewmagazine