When we watch the news or read stories about conflicts happening across the world, it can be easy to think about the overall picture, or to look purely at numbers and outcomes without seeing the individuals that are directly affected and involved. Set against the back-drop of the Arab Spring, We Are the Giant places a magnifying glass over three different stories – stories from Libya, Syria and Bahrain, respectively – and gives us an insight into the people who have been directly impacted by the wave of protests, civil wars and revolutions in the Middle East.
The film’s title comes from an idea passed down by human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja to his two daughters, Maryam and Zainab (who are the focus of the final third of the documentary); Abdulhadi compares the people of any country to a giant, and governments to a small man keeping the giant captive. The question he asked his daughters when they were younger and living as refugees in Denmark, which Zainab recalls in the documentary, was: “Why is it that this little, small man can control this giant?”
Greg Barker’s documentary is well-made, eye-opening and often disturbing exploration of control and revolution; like Louis Theroux’s human-interest documentaries, Barker communicates his message by telling the stories of key individuals, creating a film that’s impressive in its scope without ever neglecting to show how the people involved are being affected. The documentary is broken up into three parts, telling the story of a father and son who were on the front lines in Benghazi during the Libyan uprising, two advocates of non-violent revolution in Syria, and finally the Bahraini activist sisters mentioned above.
The three stories are by turns shocking, sad, and uplifting, and the film’s direction and editing do a good job of telling them objectively, while framing them against a larger historical backdrop through the addition of quotes and archive footage. Screen-grabs from Twitter and Facebook also pop-up regularly on the screen, reinforcing the huge role that social media plays in today’s revolutions and activism work.
We Are The Giant is a hard documentary to fault. One slight criticism might be that we don’t get to know the two men in the middle story quite as well as the other individuals in the first and final parts (the wider context is perhaps favoured more in this second section), but overall the film is still a very impressive achievement; it’s a powerful and moving insight into the people involved in revolutions, and the motivations behind the terrifying risks they take in order to stand up for what they believe in.