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Family of Woman Film Festival: #chicagoGirl

“We’re walking in a very dark tunnel, but at the end of the tunnel we see the light. We just don’t know how long that tunnel is.”

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Ala’a Basatneh didn’t do much sightseeing in Sun Valley this past weekend, where she was visiting. No, the 22-year old used all her spare time doing what she does almost every hour of every day: checking social media for the latest on the civil war in Syria.

“I’m always online. Always. I wake up in the middle of the night and check on my accounts and I go back to sleep. It’s just nonstop,” she says.

But Basatneh, the focus of the documentary #chicagoGirl, which screened at the Family of Women Film Festival in Sun Valley February 28, doesn’t just monitor the situation in the country where she was born. From a suburb of Chicago, she also coordinates rallies by anti-regime activists in Syria, and sends video of the protests, as well as footage of human rights violations, to media outlets all over the world.

It’s a life documented in #chicagoGirl, directed by Joe Piscatella. And it’s one that’s taken on increased urgency with the actions of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria (ISIS), which has grown since the film was finished.

The brutality of the group, says Basatneh, has drawn attention away from the mission of the original revolutionaries she supports, who want to see the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Because the media finds the story of ISIS sexier, and all they’re covering is ISIS, activists like me and expatriates have to double up their work,” says Basatneh.

“We have to work harder and longer hours online to spread awareness and to show that as we speak right now there are TNT barrel bombs dropping on top of civilian neighborhoods.”

Basatneh can’t forget the images she’s seen on the videos that are clandestinely uploaded, including one recently of a boy eating cardboard boxes because he was starving. She sent the footage out to news outlets, but it wasn’t carried.

“And then a couple weeks later, I get a message from one of the activists that the kid was sniped and killed,” she says.

“So he’s dead. And the world is going just day by day, not acting. It’s depressing. But I don’t let it bring me down. Because if I stop, and every ex-patriot stops, and every activist stops, then we are betraying the blood of the people that died.”

She wishes the international community would do something, whether that be boots on the ground, or enforcing a no-fly zone. Any action, she maintains, would help the rest of the world in the long run.

Ala'a Basatneh: "We have to work harder and longer hours online to spread awareness." - PHOTO BY MARCIA FRANKLIN
  • photo by Marcia Franklin
  • Ala'a Basatneh: "We have to work harder and longer hours online to spread awareness."
“We don’t want to see the chaos and the extremism form ISIS in our backyard. So by helping the Syrian people, we’re actually helping ourselves; we’re helping Europe.”

In the documentary, Basatneh is shown briefly visiting Syria, which her parents left in 1992. She went one other time, but can’t go back until the country is safer.

“Not only have I gotten threats from the Syrian regime, but now I have threats from the extremist groups” like ISIS, she says.

“Through activists, they sent me verbal messages that if I were to go back to Syria, “not good” things would happen to me.”

Indeed, the name of the film, #chicagoGirl, came from an online threat Basatneh received.
To the young girls now joining ISIS, she would say, “Seek help and try to talk to family members about it. Syrian people and girls their age are struggling for freedom. They should be on the right side of history.”

Basatneh hopes more people will see #chicagoGirl and realize that the Syrian people are the ultimate victims of the civil war.

“I love the film. I love it,” she says. “And I want the children of the martyrs and children of the victims and the activists that died 20 years from now to see this documentary and think, “Oh, my God, my dad and my mom have suffered so much for me to live in such a free country and a democratic country.”

For her part, Basatneh wants to use her freedom to get a Masters in international human rights, and work for a global agency helping children.

“Since I was very little, my dad always said that the greatest weapon I could have is a degree,” she says.
And she believes that in the end, Syrians will live in peace.

“We’re walking in a very dark tunnel, but at the end of the tunnel we see the light. We just don’t know how long that tunnel is.”

Ala'a Basatneh: "We don't want to see the chaos and the extremism from ISIS in our backyard." - PHOTO BY MARCIA FRANKLIN
  • photo by Marcia Franklin
  • Ala'a Basatneh: "We don't want to see the chaos and the extremism from ISIS in our backyard."