Film Review: We Are the Giant (★★½)

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In 2011 the Egyptian government was overthrown by the uprising of the people in an event that would start what has become known as the Arab Spring. Many more Middle Eastern countries saw its citizens rise up against their dictatorship governments as a result, and Greg Barker’s documentary “We are the Giant” tells stories from some of those countries. The film focuses on three stories of people from Libya, Syria and Bahrain who have joined the revolutions. But while each story will stir your emotions, “We Are the Giant” struggles to paint the full picture.

The title comes from a story that Maryam and Zainab al-Khawaja’s father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja a lifelong human activist, told them when they were children; that the people of a county were a giant, and it was being controlled by this tiny person rather than realizing its power. The film shows the Giants at least attempting to take control, but to varying degrees of success.

Maryam and Zainab’s story is the most effective. The two sisters are leaders for the Bahrain movement and are relentless advocates for the path of peaceful resistance. Maryam works abroad to spread the cause after her life was put in danger if she stayed, while Zainab has been arrested several times for her peaceful protests, most recently in December of last year.

Not only is Maryam and Zainab’s section of the film the most effective because of their individual story is interesting and inspiring, but it also covers the most on Bahrain’s fight against the government. The section covers Bahrain’s relations with the U.S., treatment of peaceful protesters as well as the personal struggle for Zainab and Maryam.

The other two sections, which focus on a father who joined his son in the rebel army that opposed Gaddafi in Libya and the start of peaceful revolution in Syria that eventually became a military struggle, are interesting insights into those individual movements, but are just glimpses and struggle to create nearly as strong of a portrait as Maryam and Zainab’s.

One reason for that is because the efforts of our subjects end unsatisfyingly. In Libya, the father’s son died during combat, and while his father continued with the movement we know that Gaddafi was overthrown, but we also know that Libya continued to struggle even after the dictator’s defeat. In Syria, the military force that emerged from the peaceful protests help lead to extremists groups like ISIS. These topics are mentioned briefly in the individual sections, but they are not given their full due.

That may be because the film seems more focused on the act of revolution itself rather than the result. Montages of newspaper clippings and photos of past revolutions surround these three stories. The American Revolution, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Thiamin Square and others are put right along side the likes of Lenin and Mao. They were instances where the power of the people was shown, but the goal of a revolution should be just as important as the act, and that is something that is not entirely present in “We Are the Giant.”

On their own, each of these stories is a powerful testament of the people’s struggle and conviction to rise up and attempt to fight injustice and the film is commendable for providing these incredible stories accompanied by powerful images from the heart of the Arab Spring. As a whole, however, the doc struggles to take these stirring testimonies and combine them to form a unifying thesis.

“We Are the Giant” is currently available on VOD and digital.