The passion and idealism that fuel both successful and attempted revolutions provide the human focus of Greg Barker’s “We Are the Giant,” a dramatic account of people active in the movements sparked by the Arab Spring. Looking at two people each in Libya, Syria and Bahrain, the film doesn’t try to explain the political background or complexities of these societies but instead offers haunting, up-close portraits of individuals who elect to put their nations’ fates above their own.
Wrapped around the three accounts are slickly produced graphics (scored with soaring music) that invoke popular uprisings before and beyond the Arab Spring, from the American Revolution to more recent upheavals in Poland, South Africa, China, Burma and other countries. Though the filmmakers rather dubiously intermix quotes from tyrants and murderers such as Lenin and Che Guevara with others from democratic and non-violent figures including Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr., the implicit point that all revolutions stem from a universal hunger for freedom is nicely offset by the specificity of the three stories we witness, which illustrate not just the commonalities but also the differences among recent revolts in the Arab world.
The film commendably gives us vivid and memorable people whose personal stories strikingly illuminate their peoples’ struggles, as well as chronicling important bits of history at ground-level with enough narrative scope that we’re able to comprehend events with both more immediacy and more overall coherence than in the fragmentary, day-by-day accounts of TV news shows. Barker and his collaborators, including co-producer Razan Ghalayini and cameraman Fadi Dabbas, incorporate footage of protests and the attempts to suppress them that’s sometimes wrenchingly violent but that clearly demonstrates the dangers the pro-democracy activists face in all of these situations.
Indeed, the lethal finality of those dangers is central to the first story, about Libya. We quickly learn that one of the two figures who are the focus of this account, 20-year-old Muhannad Ben-Sadik, was killed in the attempt to overthrow dictator Moammar Ghadhafi. His story is told by his colleagues and the tale’s other protagonist, his father, Osama Ben-Sadik.