Director Marshall Curry. Photo Credit: Bill Gallagher.

Director Marshall Curry. Photo Credit: Bill Gallagher.

GALO: Matt, how different do you think your experience would have been as a revolutionary had you not been filming?

MV: Not all that different, actually. I always used the camera as secondary to the gun and to what I was doing. There were times that I just thought about tossing the camera, as you can see in the film, so it wasn’t really much of a distraction and it wasn’t really something that changed the experience much. It was added responsibility — I guess I could have maybe relaxed a little more if I didn’t have to worry about also filming. It didn’t change it too much. Everybody in that war was filming; I just had a better camera than most of the revolutionaries.

GALO: And going off that, can you each explain from your perspectives why it is important that these events were documented?

MV: I find it really important because it inspired other people I know — it inspired Syrians. When they saw the revolution in Libya and they saw the footage on YouTube, they saw how things were done and they were inspired by it. They were inspired by what were basically commercials that rebel units put together to promote themselves and create competition among units — normally a healthy competition, but I think it was really important in order to help pass the torch from Libya to Syria. Without that footage, it would have not had that effect.

GALO: And Marshall?

MC: I’m not a Middle East expert, so I have less to say about that, but I think one of the things that interested me so much in the story was the way that everybody now through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is becoming filmmakers in some ways. They’re dealing with things that I’ve had to deal with in films in the past and Matt dealt with in Libya and Syria and in other places, where we’re all trying to navigate that [mindset of] ‘how can you be present at the same time as you document the thing that you’re in the midst of?’ That was just one of the questions that intrigued me about Matt’s story, and he lived an extreme version of that — most of us aren’t in situations like that.

GALO: Matt, what has the response of your friends from the film, Nuri and the revolutionaries, been like?

MV: Nuri’s been traveling, so he hasn’t seen it — really none of my friends have seen the film yet, except for the ones who came to the premiere, and they really liked it. So yeah, I’ve gotten a good response so far. I want the guys in Libya to see it. There’s a film festival coming up in Libya. I don’t know if it would be possible to get there or not in time, but it’s really important for me for Libyans to see it, for Syrians to see it, and it’s extremely important that it gets translated into Arabic. The opinion of the men I served with is probably the most important opinion of all to me, besides that of my family, of course.

MC: And Robert De Niro. Just kidding, just kidding!

GALO: Matt, in the film you said you wanted a hand in changing or impacting events around you, but in what ways have those events — and the people you met — changed you?

MV: My time in the region on the motorcycle definitely transformed me into the person I am today. It made me tougher, more courageous, but at the same time, after Libya, a bit more cautious. It was a growing up process — the “crash course in manhood.”

MC: You’re more political too, wouldn’t you say?

MV: Sure. I became very ideological after Libya — to the point where it changed the whole course of my life. I’ve been working for the Syrian revolution ever since I got back from Libya, and I’m fully invested in the cause. When I went to Libya, I went mostly to help my friends and also partly ideologically. But I emerged from Libya a revolutionary, and that’s what I’ll continue to do — and so we win or they kill me.

GALO: I really thought the animated scenes were incredible. Would you guys talk a little about what went into making them?

MC: After the war was over, Matt went back to the prison where he was held and was able to take photographs and film video footage, so we knew what that looked like exactly. We got somebody, who I’d worked with on my previous film If a Tree Falls, to build a 3-D animated model of the cell. I thought it would be most powerful to try to give the audience as much as possible a sense of what Matt felt while he was in his cell. So rather than have the point of view of the camera be this outside party looking at Matt, I thought it might be great to have the camera be Matt’s eyes. When he looks down he sees a seat; when he reaches out and touches a wall, he sees hands; and at the point that he would have auditory hallucinations, we illustrate those visually. It was a six month process, probably, to build a 3-D model and all the animations within the model — the hands, Gaddafi, the hallucinations — those were all hand-drawn cell animations, rather than sort of 3-D generated.

GALO: Marshall, the part where Matt takes aim and fires on one of Gaddafi’s men, you insert a childhood home movie as a break in the action. Can you talk about that decision?

MC: At one point, actually, in an earlier cut of the film, Matt said, “you know, I’d realized I’d come a long way from my video game playing days as a teenager in Baltimore.” And so, at one point, I had the line in there, and then I ended up pulling it because just the shots alone brought the movie full circle and just reminded us of where he had come from, and the journey and the transformation that he had gone on.

GALO: Matt, you talked about the influence of Hollywood films like Lawrence of Arabia (1962), gaming, adventure books growing up — now that you’ve had your own experiences, how do those influences of your past hold up? You’ve lived it, so how do they compare?

MV: It’s completely different than action movies or anything else. War is not a movie and I’ve never regarded war as some sort of Hollywood movie. I mean, all the romanticism of it is generally false. But I had already seen that when I was in Iraq and Afghanistan, all those notions of the differences between real war and Hollywood war were broken into me at about 2009 in Iraq. But those influences were there, they just weren’t all that prominent. I wasn’t a movie action junkie. And yes, I liked Lawrence of Arabia, but it wasn’t like I’d idolized it — I’d only seen it a few times. I mean, my life has become better than any movie I ever watched, I would say in good ways and also worse in some tragic ways as well. It’s all a mixed bag but capturing it on film, I can’t help but draw connections in my mind, though it’s not something I sit around and dwell on that much.

Video Courtesy of Tribeca Film.