Heba Khaled’s People Of The Wasteland runs approximately 23-minutes long and was filmed using GoPro cameras. The style creates a kinetic, urgent atmosphere, while the editing seamlessly weaves through both years with nary a skipped beat. There is a certain intensity and uneasiness to how everything is portrayed. But what makes the short film such a harrowing, necessary watch is its subject. See, the GoPros were strapped to Syrian soldiers fighting on the front lines. The edits are from different people in the heat of battle, or happily taking a small break to drink water (hopefully, safely), and so forth.
For about two years, Khaled would receive footage from those fighting on the frontlines. She strings that film together creating People Of The Wasteland and there’s no way she could have know how timely her film would be. For those who don’t recall, President Donald Trump pulled the US armed forces out of Syria, where they were fighting alongside the Kurds. This abrupt move caused chaos in the region, with Turkey invading almost immediately. A cease-fire was established shortly afterward but was not really adhered to. Unless something drastic changes in the near future, Syria might be in more turmoil than when Khaled originally began the movie.
“…runs approximately 23-minutes long and was filmed over a two-year time span using GoPro…strapped to Syrian soldiers fighting on the front lines.”
That right there, along with the fantastic editing skills on display, is reason enough to recommend People Of The Wasteland. But it manages a few things that war movies as entertainment (ie, The Green Berets, The Hurt Locker) don’t always succeed at doing. For one, the way the soldiers look after each other, pass canteens back and forth, or just sit to pose for a picture subtly highlights that these humans would rather not be risking their lives but are brave enough to do so for the benefit of their countrymen. It’s oddly sweet, to be honest.
The other thing is showing exactly what kind of hell war is. Khaled only used footage that represents an everywhere kind of facade. Watching the movie, excluding the language being spoken, one could hazard a guess that this was any major war anywhere in the world (excluding big cities). By showing the audience those moments of humanity against a backdrop of ever-nearing explosions and bullets, she makes the viewer feel bad for these soldiers. Given the first-person camerawork of People Of The Wasteland, the connection is all that much more intimate.
On the downside of things, is that for its strengths, the film is a one-and-done kind of watch. Perhaps it because of how short the film is, but once you’ve seen it one time, there is no need to rewatch. The style of the film means there really isn’t anything lost or missed from the initial viewing. But, given the sheer length of the filming process and the brief time of the movie itself, she could probably make a sequel or anthology type of situation that would presumably be just as engaging.
People Of The Wasteland makes the audience face the disturbing casualties of war. Its style makes for an all-encompassing, penetrating watch. The choice of locales to be highlighted and the small moments between soldiers remind the viewer of the humanity that binds this world together. What it lacks in rewatchability it more than makes up for in sheer magnitude and importance.