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. It’s a pretty tense affair. In the week I land, the US consul has issued a warning for US citizens to leave the area. There’s a 50:50 chance of US bombings. Young filmmakers, many, have been forced to leave university risking their lives in war-torn Aleppo, Syria, as activists and documenters. The group we meet had to take a number of elaborate routes to get here and shake off any security traps.. I’m nervous and buzzing at the same time.
I have met with the Guardian newspaper, they like the story, photos and video I have. 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 like trust need preserving. Maybe in the future, if and when her family are safe we can do something.
David Dunkley Gyimah leads the Digital and Interactive Storytelling LAB, at the University of Westminster as a filmmaker, journalist, coder and SouthBank Artist-in-Residence. He has taught and filmed in high risk zones e.g. Apartheid South Africa, Lebanon, Tunisia and Egypt. He’s a former BBC Newsnight, 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. More on David @viewmagazine