Sargon Saadi is a Syrian-born cinematographer, now living in Los Angeles. His short movie “The Last Plight,” released late last year, is a heart-wrenching portrayal of the plight of Assyrian Christians and other minorities in the face of the ISIS onslaught. He kindly agreed to answer some questions. (You can view “The Last Plight” online.)
Tell me a little about yourself. How did you get into movie-making?
I was born and raised in Syria, a wonderful county, the jewel of the Middle East. But unfortunately, the claws of civil war have torn it apart.
My passion for filmmaking definitely comes from a young age when my older brother was making home videos with my cousins and me. My dad had a sensitive eye for photography as well, even though he never fully explored it.
When the opportunity presented itself for me to go to the United States in 2006, I decided I would follow my passion and study filmmaking. Five years later, I got my cinematography degree from Columbia College, Chicago. Ever since, I have been working as a freelance cinematographer on many films and documentaries.
What is the background to “The Last Plight”?
To talk about the background, I must talk a little about who the Assyrians are. Assyrians are the descendants of the great Mesopotamian civilization of 7,000 years. They still speak the Aramaic language that Jesus Christ once spoke. They are the last indigenous people of the region.
As an Assyrian myself, ever since I was a child I wondered what I would have done if I were alive in 1915 when the Ottoman Empire committed genocide against us. That genocide, which the Assyrians now call “Seyfo,” is hardly recognized or even talked about in schools or in the media.
Now, 100 years later, the Assyrian Christians are facing yet another genocide and this time in Iraq by the terrorist organization ISIS (The Islamic State). I could not stay idle, and that’s why I made the film. I wanted to let the world know.
I got a call from two producer friends from California, Sargon Rouel and Suzan Younan, asking me to fly to Iraq with them and document this crisis. We all shared the same passion and the same goal. It was an emotional roller coaster for the three of us to witness that tragic plight every day. We were in Iraq for eight days last September.
The ISIS invasion has caused the mass displacement of more than 600,000 people, minorities like the Assyrian Christians, Yezidis, Shabaks, Kakai, Turkmans and others. Now, eight months later, the majority of them are still without sufficient shelter or medical care. Unfortunately, the international response to this humanitarian crisis has been very slow and insufficient.
“The Last Plight” has been making a significant impact in raising awareness globally. So far it has been translated into six major languages and screened on four television channels. In addition, it has been screened at the European Parliament, which was a major accomplishment for our mission. The film also got an award from the internationally renowned video-sharing platform Vimeo. We are going to multiple film festivals this year and we are hoping for more exposure.
* Your website has a trailer for another movie, “Qamishli: Peace At War.” Could you tell me a little about this?
This is another passionate project of mine. It is a documentary about the survival of the Assyrian Christian community in Syria during the civil war. It focuses on the small city of Qamishli, which is my hometown.
Syria has been suffering from a brutal four-year civil war that seems to have no end. The Assyrian community is dwindling rapidly because of security concerns, threats and economic hardship. The massive migration of the Christian community is not only disastrous for its historical impact on the country but it also could have cultural and social consequences on the future of Syria as a moderate and modern country.
The film is less about politics and more about the way this minority group has been able to survive, socially and as humans, in the midst of war. I’m currently finalizing it, and it will be premiered in May at the Mardin Film Festival in Turkey.
* Please comment a little about the plight right now of Assyrians in Iraq and Syria. Are conditions getting worse?
The Civil War in Syria does not seem to be ending any time soon, but peace is showing a few faint signs of progress. I hope that the dust of war settles and the Syrian people can reclaim their lives again.
In Iraq the situation is much grimmer. The Assyrians are still facing a massive humanitarian crisis. All their ancestral lands in the Nineveh Plains have been taken from them by ISIS. None of it has been reclaimed yet.
The Assyrians have lost all trust in governments to help them, and they are now trying to take matters into their own hands. There are positive attempts to create Assyrian local forces to defend their own cities and homes. The emergence of NPU (Nineveh Protection Unit) is giving new hope for the Assyrian Christians that finally, one day, they can defend their own lands independently.
What can Christians in the West do to help your cause?
The Christians in the West can play a vital role in stopping this tragedy. Along with genuine prayers, a good place to start is to go to www.ADemandForAction.com to be informed and get involved. ADemandForAction is a grass-roots movement formed to raise awareness about the plight of all minorities in the Middle East as well as to lobby governments to make the right decisions. To aid the displaced people directly they can donate to www.AssyrianAid.org (Assyrian Aid Society).
It all starts with us being informed about world atrocities. With knowledge we can destroy ignorance, and with love we can conquer hate.
Sargon, thank you very much. Watch “The Last Plight” here.