Through extensive media coverage, factual or not, the refugee crisis has pulled on the heart strings of the global community for years now. The polarizing response has often been categorized into a reaction of either intense fear, or irresponsible pity. The latter has, subsequently, reduced the survivors of war torn Syria/Iraq into the paradigm of helpless victim, often leaving us with little thought for anything more.
Filmmaker Jake Viramontez's latest short, Killing the Rock, a Sypher Films and Madison + Vine production, combats this limited narrative through the inspiring lens of Abu Raja. A refugee who fled from his home in Daraa, Syria, Abu Raja is an unapologetic artist, a sculptor by trade who finds powerful purpose in his profession. Abu Raja chooses to respond to hatred with love, forgiveness, and a commitment to rebuild with his hands the land that has been destroyed.
Viramontez filmed Killing the Rock in Ramtha, Jordan, a dangerous border town near Syria's highly active ISIS war zone. When I asked him what compelled him to leave the luxuries of his American lifestyle and document this piece, his response related to the process that any artist, including Abu Raja himself, undertakes.
"When I am outside of my comfort zone, my greatest creative abilities emerge. When I am stripped of my normalcy, I can think freely, and tell stories with the very authenticity that I am experiencing."
Still, "normalcy" may be an understatement. Viramontez and his crew, with their limited budget, slept on the floor of their friend's home, so close to the war zone that they could hear the bombs over the horizon.
As for Abu Raja, not only has his resilience to survive been heavily tied to his own creative process, but his conviction, that artists carry a greater responsibility as messengers, has led him to remain proactive as a war-survivor, and ultimately, a re-builder.
Although his children were killed, Abu Raja refuses to kill. Instead, he channels his unimaginable pain into a rock, and from there, as a sculptor, creates something new, something hopeful — something to live for.
Viramontez chose to highlight Abu Raja's narrative, as he believes his spirit represents the very real resilience countless refugees have acquired throughout the political turmoil.
"It's far too common to watch the news and reduce these human beings to statistics. Or worse, a dangerous threat. But when you get to know the individual, the personal story, it suddenly becomes a real tragedy, and no longer a set of numbers and data," Viramontez noted.
That is why he was so intentional on focusing on Abu Raja's story of pain, yet also willful perseverance, capability, and commitment to his community.
"In the West, it is so easy to become so self-absorbed, that it leads us down a path of emptiness, but for Abu Raja, a man stripped of everything, his endurance to survive was all tied to his focus on the well-being of others. Nothing for himself. His commitment is to re-build for the next generations - those that are beyond him."
Written by: Loureen Ayyoub
Director/Filmmaker Jake Viramontez is represented by Madison + Vine.
To view more Sypher Films productions, click here.