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Review: Sand and Blood


- The film by Matthias Krepp and Angelika Spangel is a harrowing collage of amateur footage from online platforms with narration by refugees living in Austria

Review: Sand and Blood

The first feature by Austrian filmmaker Matthias Krepp and co-director Angelika SpangelSand and Blood [+see also:
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, combines footage of life in Iraq and Syria from the last few years, filmed by activists, combatants and civilians, and narrated by the refugees from that area who are now living in Austria. In four parts – focusing on the rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the subsequent US invasion of the country, the chaotic political and social situation after the withdrawal of its troops, and the steady rise of Islamist groups, with the pandemonium of ISIS as the aftermath – the mostly amateur videos, which have mainly been found on various online platforms, depict the recent history of two countries presently torn apart by war, as seen from the perspective of those who decided to flee.

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Sand and Blood, which won the Silver Eye Award at the Ji.hlava IDFF (see the news), is an important watch – both for those who are less familiar with the unfolding of the present situation in Syria and Iraq, and for those who know more but who will still likely be shocked by the intensity of the first-person testimonies and the realities of the people living or having previously lived in the war-torn areas of the Middle East. It is a complex overview of the ideologies at the root of the protests, the revolution, the violent conflicts and, finally, the war – and of the reasons that make them so powerful. It stands as a testament to how enlightened thinking and individual reasoning can be a privilege, rather than a personal or social trait, and how in these times of chaos, uncertainty and fear, the tendency of the majority is to follow whoever takes charge – whoever seemingly does the thinking and takes the edge off the existential anxiety for everyone else. Equally importantly, it also lays bare how violence is a product of historical circumstances, rather than a trait of individual societies, and how the normalisation of it, or the normalisation of people suffering and dying, does not depend on how “normal” or not the life was before. Both are important arguments, and are equally applicable to the horrors of Western history and its political present – from the rise of Nazism in Europe to the contemporary surge in far-right movements taking place everywhere from Europe to the USA. 

Still, Sand and Blood, which was produced by Filmakademie Wien, is a film that does not depend solely on its political message. Far from it: its collage of amateur video footage from digital channels and the independent commentaries and accounts that serve as the voice-over narration demonstrate formal ingenuity on the part of the filmmakers, especially in the dramatic structure, and it is this that is behind most of the emotional effect that the film delivers. The montage of the devastation, the endless torrent of images of fear and hatred, is nigh on surreal in its intensity, almost recalling the effect of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings, such as Picasso’s Guernica, but set in the context of today, when the most harrowing realities of suffering can easily be found being shared on social networks.

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