Syrian filmmaker Bassel Chehade was “shot before he could shoot the truth,” reads a poster among many circulated on the Internet for the young man who was killed on May 28 while shooting a documentary film in the embattled city of Homs.
A native of Damascus, Chehade was visiting Homs and was reported to have been training citizen journalists and filming attacks on the residents of the city by the regime forces.
The young filmmaker was a Fulbright Scholar, pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Film studies at the College of Visual and Performing Art at Syracuse University in the United States.
Chehade directed last year, “Singing to Freedom,” a documentary film about nonviolent resistance in Syria.
It features interviews with journalist Amy Goodman and political theorist Noam Chomsky, among others. It also shows scenes of Syrian protesters chanting for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
In 2010, he shot a short film “Saturday Morning Gift,” recalling through the eyes of a young Lebanese boy the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel.
With the rhythms of a famed Arabic song “Janna Janna Janna” (Paradise), Chehade’s friends showered him with praise as they gathered around his coffin to bid him farewell.
The funeral service was allegedly limited because regime authorities were monitoring all mourners and the church ceremony in Damascus was reportedly halted.
Chehade’s friend, Orwa Nyrabia, who is also a producer and filmmaker, spoke with Al Arabiya in an attempt to gauge events that led to Chehade’s death, since the media has very limited access in Syria.
“Bassel was the kindest person one could meet. He was a very humble, energetic and a timid man all together … While talking to him, you would have never guessed how brave he is,” Nyrabia said.
Bassel Chehade was concerned that the Syrian revolution would be misinterpreted as a civil conflict between the people of the same nation.
“Being a secular Christian did not mean for Bassel that his hopes of a free Syria are any different from any other of his compatriots”, Nyrabia said.
“Bassel believed in a democratic Syria where all citizens are equal, respect their rights and their plurality.
By staying in Homs and making friends with the city’s revolutionaries, he went much further than the majority of pro-revolution Damascene people… he put great effort towards embracing the revolution, and being embraced by it.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that during a computer chat with a friend in his hometown of Damascus, last December, Bassel Chehade said “Syria needs me” as he considered leaving Syracuse, N.Y. for Syria., and he added, “Or maybe I need her more.”
Nyrabia said “Bassel was filming a long-term observational documentary with some of Homs’ revolutionary young people. He filmed for five months, and wanted to stay longer with them, but that deadly grenade killed him and three other friends.”
“It was a day of combat in this part of Homs, and as usual, one of the regime’s strategies is to arbitrarily bomb opposition areas during combat… a strategy that killed thousands so far. In the evening, Bassel and his friends were walking when the grenade took their lives,” Nyrabia added.
“Bassel came home to Syria from the U.S. where he was completing his studies, but he found himself unable to leave, and chose to jeopardize his scholarship to stay and film what was going on...”