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RIP Masoud Buisir

The troubador. the man who took his guitar to the frontline. The voice of the revolution. RIP, my brother

You are the defiant bloom in this desert waste

You are the voice that shatters these chains

You are the revolution that sleeps within us.

You are Masoud…

Massoud Injured

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“We Win or We Die” to screen at the 2013 Crested Butte Film Festival

The Crested Butte Film Festival opens this Thursday September 26 and continues until Sunday September 29, 2013. The festival is held in Crested Butte, a former mining town in Gunnison County, Colorado.

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Among the films being featured, are 180 Films’ very own film, “We Win or We Die” (2011).

“We Win or We Die” (2011), is an American independent short documentary produced by 180 Films. The film is set at the start of the Libyan revolution in the city of Benghazi. During the 2011 uprising, one man, an oil engineer, takes it upon himself to drive a car into the Katiba (Gaddafi’s base / home for Benghazi), shifting the power to the revolutionaries of Benghazi.  The film flows like a faced paced narrative told from actual cell phone footage from the streets of the revolutions and CG stills of Madi Zui building up to his final act of breaching the Katiba.

“We Win or We Die” – Press info

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A Time to Kill

Introduction

morals

These short essays to follow are written from the standpoint of trying to distinguish between violent behaviors for a means of survival, and violent behaviors that stem from an appetite to commit violent acts.  After approximately 5000 years of civilization, humans have erected themselves out of the natural world and have constructed their own.  The civilization system, so to speak, depended on infinite amount of resources, of all forms, to fuel the process.  Resources that from our early ancestors perspective, were only there for the taking.  At that time the population was significantly smaller, which meant the impact on the environment could be absorbed without recourse. Throughout time our mythology even reflected this perspective by placing the Earth at the center of the universe.   As a result, the civilization system was highly successful in growth, and accepted violent acts as common place.


Acts of violence have built and will continue to build this world in the form of one species consuming the energy of another for its own survival.  The modern world follows the same way.  However, through civilization humans must question what is necessary for survival if they intend on surviving. Our modern society has packaged resources in cute little boxes made from almost any material. But for most, the thoughts on the origins of these materials, the true necessity of the items, and the impact on the environment are never questioned.  Simply put, I believe the majority of the population has lost connection with the impact of how much violence we tolerate.


My hopes are to extract a truth that I can hold up to my self and decide are my acts just.  It is important from my perspective that this kind of questioning begin to tingle in the cortex’s of the  public’s consciousness.  The human race has been very successful at taking control over a large amount of the planet.  We have put a man on the moon, dabbled in the nuclear forces of the atom and now we can build a human with digital implants.  Our power is only strengthened by our technology which has taken us now to the brink of a new age of human beings.

My thoughts lead me to conclude the following:  if humans are to survive the coming times an awareness of the interconnectedness of life and matter must increase in the majority of the world population.  Each one of us is made from living and non-living matter.  Before you were you, your atoms were somewhere else,  being something else.  We are made from the Earth, as much as we are the Earth.


Man is not the center of the universe.  Not only are we analogous to a proton in the vastness of the universe, but contemporary cosmology suggests (allowable through Quantum Mechanics) that the universe itself may be one of many.  The point here is that a shift in perspective is in great need. We are part of something so immense and delicate, as opposed to something being just for us.  With a perspective of ownership towards the world comes unregulated consumption, and with todays population size this translates into huge violence across the globe.  In order for humans to survive in the future, their place in the universe must be clear.


Of course this will change many beliefs. Think of this: how can 2000 – 5000 years of ancient beliefs handle modern moral dilemmas such as stem cell research, cloning, human organ printing, gene manipulation, and the other issues that will surely arise as a result of twenty first century technology?  I feel that the further we probe the more we will realize all creatures and even matter are at different levels of consciousness.  Our actions are a result of our beliefs, which are a function of our perspective.  The species is too powerful to run an old program at this scale of population.  The violence is too great for the planet to absorb anymore.  More importantly, for what purpose is this conscious engine intending to do and for whom?  How many entities must be sacrificed for survival or for the sake of a tiny minority?  What does the planet gain in dividends for being on the receiving end of such violent acts?  Lastly, how does violent behavior affect our humanity, are we evolving or are we dis-evolving?


This leads me to the first basic question, when is it just to kill and when is it not?  

More to come….

Written by Erik Niel


A Message to the True Believers

In light of the recent tragic events in Libya, I feel that it is time to speak out.  For the past few days, I have been filled with profound grief about the death of the American diplomatic staff, and the Libyans who heroically defended them in my beloved Benghazi.   Many of you have done your parts to assuage my grief by showing empathy and understanding in your hearts for the Libyan people.  And I love you all for that.

Yet sadly, I have seen the flip side, the cynical need for some of you to characterize all Libyans, and the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, as the Other, the monsters and devils lying in wait, ready to tear down the gates of civilization.  And to make matters worse, your voices, overflowing with ironclad certainty, utterly drown out the voices of reason and moderation.  I spent nearly a year in Benghazi getting to know the true character of the people.  And yet my experiences count for nothing to you.  And so I write this, half-knowing that it will never reach your eyes.  Yet still I write.

When the Libyan uprising first erupted in February of last year, I watched in amazement as an entire population attempted to liberate itself from the crushing yoke of a mercurial tyrant, a God King meant for another century.  And when I read a small passage on CNN about an everyman filling his car with explosives and ramming the anti-aircraft gun outside of the great fortress that dominates Benghazi, that was it for me.  I just had to be there.  I needed to see this people’s revolution for myself.  And no, not through the distorted media lens, but through my own eyes.

The decision made, I now had to deal with the lingering specter of terror.  What the hell was I getting into?  Thankfully I had a good friend already there, but as far as I was concerned, I was still leaping headlong into the void.  I still recall so vividly the conversation with an expert on what to do if I was captured.  And even more vividly, the discussion with my dad on the code we would use if I was indeed kidnapped.   I remember finding it so unbelievably odd how we casually broke up the regions of Libya into the geographical locations of English football clubs in case I was thrust against my will in front of the camera.  Driving up to the San Francisco International Airport in the false light before dawn, and blithely talking about the possibility of being imprisoned…or even worse.

Three weeks of frantic preparation passed, and I found myself looking toward the Egyptian checkpoint, patiently waiting for permission to cross the border, and into the midst of the revolution. Then suddenly…I was there.  And what a strange sensation it was.  So this is how it feels to be in a revolution?  No anxiety.  No terror.  Just a feeling of ever-growing excitement.

As we toured the eastern city of Tobruk, we were greeted with scenes that would become all too familiar to me during the early days.  Children sweeping the streets free of debris.  Citizens policing the crumbling neighborhoods.  And everyone wanting to shake my hand.  Men invited me into their houses for lunch.  Soldiers guarding forlorn checkpoints gave me tea.  And every man, woman and child wanted to tell their story, the tragic price that they paid under the reign of  “Brother Leader”.

The more time I spent in Libya, the more I found my own hope, long lost to cynicism and self-absorption, return – and return in waves.  And no better reflection of this hope could I find than in the burgeoning music and art scene.  After 42 years of boiling under the surface, creative expression burst forth with a ferocity that reduced the walls to rubble.  People literally discovered their artistic talents overnight, and they wasted no time.  The media center in downtown Benghazi was a veritable beehive of activity.   Every room was filled with artists, newspaper editors, metal bands and hip hop groups, all of them determined to express themselves to the fullest.  I was floored by this fast evolving Renaissance to such an extent that I decided to harness it into a rocking music festival in the heart of Benghazi.

As the war became mired in an unstable equilibrium, the enthusiasm of those early days would soon fade.  But the feeling would return in spades when the God King finally fell from the sky.  On that day, October 20th, a day I will likely never experience again, the celebrations were on a scale I cannot adequately describe.  As one friend so eloquently put it, there was a complete and total absence of hatred in the entire city.  All of our personal chains dissolved, and for that oh so brief moment, we were united in the fellowship of man.

Yet sadly, the feeling was all too fleeting, and Libya soon became mired in post-revolutionary blues.  After months of planning, the festival was cancelled at the 11th hour.  The music that was such a driving force during the revolution went silent, and the paint dried up.  More and more problems came to the surface as stagnation set in.  People became truly jaded, and the spirit of February 17th withered.

Yet to my amazement, I still felt safer within the dilapidated confines of Benghazi than in any American city.  I could walk anywhere, and the people still wanted to shake my hand, to tell me thank you for documenting their struggles.  No, not a trendy revolution thing, but the true untarnished character of the people.  For you see it’s Benghazi, the city of the homeless, and she welcomes all with open arms.  As my time in Libya came to a close, I felt a deep, profound love for her.  She adopted me as one of her own, her native son returned.  She fed me, housed me and graced me with the warm company of my long lost brothers and sisters:  Hammuda, Dado, Bofa, Moftah, Don, Elli, John, Haitham, Abdallah, Mingo, Hussain, Marrwan, Tawfik, Hassam, Masoud, Aziz, Hakim, Saleh, Munder, Mansour, young Malek, Zakaria, several Ibrahims, several Ali’s, Rodaina, Huda, Noran, Fayrouz, Rounak, and the thousands who I have sadly failed to mention.

These, my experiences with each and every one of them, they define Benghazi.  They define the spirit of Libya.  Yes, I witnessed the desecration of the military cemeteries in Benghazi.  Yes, I witnessed a gun battle between a militia and heavily armed thieves.  Yes, I saw music festivals cancelled due to the heavy-handedness of some of the more extreme elements.

And yet I saw 100 men rush to the aid of woman who was being car-jacked.  I saw 30 citizens rush to help at the scene of a car accident.  I saw the utter grief etched on the faces of those gathered at the many funerals I attended.  I saw the unfettered tears of Mahdi Zew’s daughters as they reflected on the loss of their beloved father.

I heard the pain in the voices of my friends when they talked about losing the best of them, their dear friend Rami El Kaleh.  And I heard the beautiful song that so powerfully expressed their grief.  I heard the hip hop artists echo the frustrations of the entire youth culture.  I heard Masoud Buisir bring hope to the hearts of the freedom fighters through his rousing music, and his message of universal human rights.

And yet you see the black flags on Fox News.  You hear the angry chants of football hooligans outside the US embassies.  You see the few hundred wild-eyed extremists destroy monuments and murder the innocent.  And you decide that they represent everyone in those parts.  And so you call the people of the entire region backward…inhuman…savages.   You call their set of beliefs cancerous, even though they share many more similarities than differences with yours.  You think of yourselves as modern and enlightened, yet you use nearly the same language as the extremists, and worse, the still ringing voices of 12th century Crusaders.

But before you walk away in disgust, and tune into one of the many hate-mongers on talk radio, I ask you this.  When a Libyan reads the newspaper, and sees a story about an unhinged man shooting up a movie theater, how do you think he views you?  Does he decide that you’re just like him?


Post-Revolutionary Blues

Over one year has passed since I first crossed the frontier into Libya, and what a long, strange trip it’s been. As I stared beyond the final border checkpoint into that empty landscape, before my eyes stretched the great unknown, a boundless abyss of uncertainty. What would become of me in this, the first war-ravaged country I had ever set foot in? Yet to my surprise, that dull sense of dread, such an ever-present specter since I first decided to go, suddenly disappeared, replaced instead with a growing feeling excitement. And so after many years of dull apathy, I felt a renewed sense of purpose.

Long before that border crossing, I fell deep into those dreary, dark doldrums that many filmmakers call home. Progress in the industry was inordinately, soul-sappingly slow. Time, however, wasn’t. And with each year gone, success seemed more and more distant, and less and less likely.  Yet all this would change in just four days, those fateful four days in February of 2011. A passion long forgotten would suddenly be rekindled, ushering me across the Atlantic and to this sand-choked border hugging the heights above the Egyptian town of Salloum.

Not an hour from Egypt, we entered into Tobruk, site of the great World War II battle, and the first sizable city in the East of Libya. As we drove on those broken roads, we were greeted with a scene of quiet jubilation. The sense of citizenship coursing through the veins of the residents, newly freed from 42 years of Gaddafi, was like nothing I had ever witnessed. And as we worked our way toward Benghazi, the birthplace of the uprising, that same scene played before us…over and over and over. For the whole of the East was polarized, working as one to rid hapless Libya of the systematic oppression that had plagued it for two generations.

As we arrived in Benghazi, midnight had come and gone, but people were out in full force clearing the wreckage from the streets. The following day, we saw 12-year old boys don police hats and direct traffic at the light-less intersections. Downtown, we raptly watched as musicians and artists converged on the once foreboding internal security headquarters, now the media center and the cultural Ground Zero of the revolution. In the blink of an eye, a music and art scene burst forth from under the surface, and enveloped free Libya.  Heavy metal, country, blues, jazz and traditional all converged on the media center, and brought its burned out shell to life.  And all amidst a backdrop of utter devastation.  42 years of neglect had left Benghazi a living ruin, a bleak setting for a post-apocalyptic film.  Yet despite the decay, the city was full of such life, of renewal, of spring come again.  I took all this in with amazement, and for the first time in I don’t remember when, I felt a faith in humanity, dormant somewhere deep inside me, reignited.  And I felt that same renewal course through my veins.

The idea for a music festival first came to me while I was exploring the ruins of the ancient Greek city Cyrene. While I wandered through the decaying Necropolis that winds down the hill toward Soussa, the youth were out in full force and exercising their creativity out in the open, letting their voices be heard for the first time in their lives. I thought to myself that the world needed to see this, the true face of the revolution. Not al Qaeda.  Not Western governments, but the thousands of forgotten, a lost generation rediscovering itself in the music…in the requiem for youth. The more I pondered, the greater the need, it seemed to me, to show to the rest of the world this true face of Libya that I was seeing. And in those quick moments, I transformed from a down-on-his luck filmmaker into a music festival producer.

After leaving Libya for a few months, I returned only to find a large number of people had already heard about the idea. As a friend later explained to me, news travels near the speed of light in the metropolitan village that is Benghazi, and one person stumbling across a Youtube video of some unknown American talking about some Libyan music festival soon turned into 50 ad hoc festival organizers. Before I even arrived, I had a crew. And when I once again planted my feet on Libyan soil, we were off to the races.  Soon followed coffee with businessmen, meetings with ministers, and appointments with NGO’s. Interest grew and grew, just as opposing forces violently clashed in the last loyalist stronghold of Sirte. A month passed, and when Sirte finally fell on October 20th, we used the occasion as a platform to advertise about the festival.  And, oh, how splendid things looked.

As time wore on, however, it became painfully clear that nothing was actually getting done, and nobody knew what they were doing. The honeymoon was over, and my once robust crew attenuated down to three: me and two others. The enthusiastic voices of support in the National Transitional Council (NTC) had long grown silent, and the various NGO’s never bothered to follow up, let alone return our calls.  To make matters worse, the idea was hijacked by at least four different groups, and what once seemed to be a concerted effort of the citizens of Benghazi became a desperate race between rival factions to hold the first festival.  The NTC invited Yousif Islam for a festival at our original location.  A local television channel began poaching from our lineup for theirs.  And whispers of various other music events kept on surfacing throughout the month of January. It seemed the very spirit of the festival, the very spirit of the music, had been tainted. All the enthusiasm, all that newfound hope welling inside of me, was gone, slowly eaten away by the months of collective apathy after the fall of Sirte. Yet somehow, through all of these pitfalls, we remaining, we few persevered.  And it appeared our perseverance would be rewarded. One day before the festival, we found ourselves the last ones standing, with a fantastic location secured, and 25 local bands ready to shake the very foundations of Benghazi. As we held the final briefing of the bands, I looked on in sheer amazement.  We did it.  After all this…we, we really pulled it off.

Sadly, however, the legs that supported us, and seemed to hold up while others fell, were nothing but an illusion, a cruel mirage in the heat of the desert sun. For at the 11th hour, the burgeoning politics of Benghazi laid to waste all our plans…and just like that, we were forced to cancel the festival.  The music, the voices, went silent once again.

The aftermath was a particularly difficult time, for the shades of failures past continually haunted me. The hope I had so happily embraced turned to dust in my hands. I hated Benghazi, hated it with a passion, and it appeared that Benghazi began to hate herself. Disappointment and resentment ruled the day as Libya became mired in post-revolutionary stagnation.  Once again, corruption was blatantly out in the open, and people felt that nothing had really changed, save for their ability to complain and criticize.  Somehow the city reflected how I felt inside, and I wanted nothing more than to go home, to leave this dirty living ruin, lost within the echoes of the 20th century.  Yet something inside refused to let me leave.  Something I had yet to discover. Some burning question left unanswered.

One beautiful spring day, as I was walking by the lighthouse, the sun peaked through the clouds, and hit the ruined buildings in a peculiar way. And for the first time since I arrived, I saw it. I saw Benghazi. Not the ruined city of trash and rubble that I had come to know, but a hidden gem amidst the dust, a gem with many facets. To truly see Benghazi, to truly understand this unique city of contradictions, one must take them all in at once.  All facets.  This was a city with virtually no infrastructure.  Crumbling hospitals.  Decaying roads. And no law and order. Yet despite these civilization-smashing problems, Benghazi not only functioned, but functioned peacefully. In the midst of it all, here I was, a blonde sore thumb with a pony-tail, moaning about the festival and generally feeling sorry for myself.  Yet I never felt any real danger, even in a city where most of the population possess small arms, with the police being nothing more than paper tigers. In spite of this, however, I walked virtually everywhere without being bothered (apart from crazy drivers and roving packs of vicious dogs). No, no. This was not Mogadishu.  In fact, this was not even San Francisco.

As the rays of the sun illuminated this ancient city on the Bay of Misrata, I at last saw through the veil of my own darkness and gazed upon the true face, the true character, of Benghazi. Unconditional love for this city, my city welled up within, for she embraced me and took me as one of her own. And for the first time, I felt peace.

This story, my story, is not about a festival, nor is it about a nation burning in the flames of revolution. No, this is a story about how the city of Benghazi and I came to love each other, despite our many disagreements, and despite the great cultural chasm that lies between us. In the beginning, I came to her engulfed within the darkness of my soul, among the shadows of failures past. Yet in the end, she would come to love me as I love her, and lead me out of the darkness.  As I left her behind in the sands of the Great Desert, I finally heard her song.  And what a beautiful song it was.


Libyan Short, We Win or We Die Screening

Libyan Short, We Win or We Die Screening at Venice Arts
Times Click: http://ow.ly/ajWjS


Libyan Short, We Win or We Die Screening

Libyan Short, We Win or We Die Screening at Venice Arts
Times Click: http://ow.ly/ajWjS