As a child growing up in Syria, Sargon Saadi loved making home movies with his brother and cousins. It led eventually to his decision to travel to the US to study filmmaking at Columbia College Chicago – famous for its arts and media programs – and then to move to the heart of the movie world, Los Angeles, where he has worked as a cinematographer on many films.
But something happened while he was living in the US. His beloved Syria – the jewel of the Middle East, as he describes it – descended into civil war. Worse, parts of the country were then overrun by the terrorists known as Islamic State. Christians and other minorities became a particular target.
Sargon is himself an Assyrian Christian. He knew he had to do something to help his people. He decided to make a movie.
“Assyrians are the descendants of the great Mesopotamian civilization of 7,000 years,” he told me. “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 Islamic State. I could not stay idle, and that’s why I made the film. I wanted to let the world know.”
Last September he and two producer friends flew to Iraq and spent eight days documenting the crisis. The resulting movie, “The Last Plight,” though just 10 minutes long, is a powerful portrayal of the victims – Christians and other minorities – and their suffering.
Released only at the end of last year, it is already causing a stir. It has been translated into six languages and shown on four television channels. It was screened at the European Parliament and won an award from the Vimeo video-sharing platform. It is expected to be shown this year at film festivals in several countries.
Meanwhile Sargon is finishing another movie, “Qamishli: Peace At War,” a documentary about the survival of the Assyrian Christian community in Syria during the civil war. It focuses on his hometown Qamishli, and will have its premiere in May at the Mardin Film Festival in Turkey.
I asked him what Christians in the West could do to help his cause. He recommended two websites. A Demand For Action provides information on the crisis. Assyrian Aid Society takes donations and uses them to help the most needy.
“It all starts with us being informed about world atrocities,” said Sargon. “With knowledge we can destroy ignorance, and with love we can conquer hate.”
“The Last Plight” can be viewed online.