REVIEW: Watani: My Homeland [2016]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 40 minutes | Release Date: 2016 (UK)
Studio: ITN Productions
Director(s): Marcel Mettelsiefen

“I am responsible for destroying my children’s future right now”

Out of five Oscar-nominated documentary shorts, four deal with the cost of genocide with three being specifically about today’s Arab refugees. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the topic is very much at the forefront of the world’s mind, the internet allowing injustices thousands of miles away appear as though they’re occurring right next door. What sets Marcel Mettelsiefen‘s Watani: My Homeland apart from the other two, however, is that it focuses on the innocents made to endure civil war and bigotry. This isn’t about the unsung heroes doing what they can to save lives while ISIS and Russia destroy them. This is about those that need to be saved—the children stripped of education, safety, and a “normal” childhood because of circumstances way beyond their control.

This is the type of human-interest story everyone stateside should watch as a barometer for whether we’ll continue lumping all Muslims into the category of “terrorist” or finally realize everyone—despite different religions and races—pumps blood the same as them. For Abu Ali’s family living amongst the Syrian revolutionaries doing what they can to stop ISIS from destroying their homeland more than they already have, life becomes intertwined with country. Syria is everything to them and Abu Ali and his wife have decided to stay and preserve it the best they can at the risk of their four children’s lives. Mettelsiefen shows the nightmare of 2013 Aleppo, the kids running inside whenever an aircraft flies by. It’s a way of living we simply cannot imagine.

Fast forward to 2014 and suddenly Abu Ali is gone—his capture by ISIS for all intents and purposes erasing his wife’s identity. She must now rise up and decide whether to stay or work towards leaving as a refugee so her kids can have a future they’ve thus far been denied. As anyone keeping tabs on the current US administration’s positions knows, their potential destination is not America. Instead the struggle will go through Turkey and hopefully to Europe. It’s a turning point that conjures conflicting hopes, one that will inevitably bring them farther from their home than the bombings and terrorists ever could. Is it better to stay where your religion and language is embraced? Or is the possibility of racism and bigotry worth the escape?

There’s some wonderful philosophical notions shared about home and identity evolving through age, maturity, and environment. We’re talking about kids who’ve only known their religion through the filters of their parents and the enemy. While it gave their father strength, ISIS tainted it in a way that will mark them forever. Do you strive to therefore relinquish who you were to become who you can be? Or is the opportunity Europe offers a means to educate yourself and ultimately return with the knowledge necessary to help reclaim your nation from its oppressive regime? This is a reality our ancestors faced to become Americans; a process that doesn’t ever happen overnight. The only way to foster alliance and friendship is by offering a helping hand—something we’ve sadly forgotten.

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