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An Open Letter to Lars Klevberg, The Norwegian Film Institute and Arts Council Norway

November 17, 2014

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

We the undersigned express our condemnation at the deceptive nature of the film directed by Lars Klevberg and funded by the Norwegian Film Institute and Arts Council Norway about Syria. It is reckless and irresponsible to distribute a fictional film as real footage thus belittling the very real suffering of Syria’s children and the very serious work by professional and citizen journalists inside Syria.

Syrian children have been the target of snipers, barrel bombs and massive atrocities for over three years, much of which has been documented, painstakingly, by citizen journalists and journalists alike in the most dangerous and dire of circumstances.  This film undermines the work and the people who continue to document crimes against humanity. Rather than engage in thoughtful debate using existing evidence, of which there is plenty, the film calls to question, both ethically and professionally the work being done to document these crimes inside Syria.

The way in which this film was presented to the public was intentionally misleading.  In such a conflict, deciphering the real from the fake is a difficult task and many activists, journalists and analysts spend countless hours sifting through videos in order to provide accurate information to the public. The intentionally misleading nature in which it was disseminated added to rather than detracted from the misinformation in Syria.

This film will feed in to attempts to cast doubts on real stories coming out of Syria by citizen journalists and professional journalists alike. It proves the filmmakers, and those who have funded it, have little understanding of the complexities of the conflict and have no regard for the risk people take upon themselves to document the ongoing violence and conflict.

In a conflict as vicious and open-ended as the one in Syria, there are real stories of heroism daily by the people who bear witness to the suffering of the people. Many have paid dearly with their lives.

Rather than shed light on a generation lost, the film has instead endangered lives, placed the burden of proof on those suffering rather than on those who cause the suffering, and belittled the very courageous spirit in which people work in conflict zones.



Abigail Haworth, Foreign correspondent

Alejandro Marti, Analyst Spain

Alexander Buehler, reporter for Spiegel, Die Zeit, NZZ

Alice Martins, photojournalist, Istanbul

Alicia Arce, Freelance Producer/Director

Almigdad Mojalli, Journalist/Translator/Fixer, Yemen

Ammar Abd Rabbo, French Syrian Photographer/Journalist

Anna Therese Day, Independent Journalist

Andreja Restek, apr news, journalist, photo reporter

Andy Carvin, First Look Media

Annia Ciezadio, author and freelance journalist

Ariana Drehsler, photojournalist

Arikia Millikan, Journalist, USA

Assaad Al Achi

Aurore Belot, photojournalist, Belgium

Bassam al-Ahmad, Human Rights Defender

Bertrand Lescher-Nuland, Department Manager, Peace Research Institute Oslo, Norway

Carsten Stormer, Journalist, Manila

Cengiz Yar Jr, Photographer, Chicago, USA

Charles Windsor, Syrian Journalist

Chris Doyle, Director CAABU

Christian Holmboe Ruge, Oslo, Norway

Christina Rizk, Documentary photojournalist

Clare Morgana Gillis, Print Journalist, Cairo

Cristiano Tinazzi, freelance journalist, Italy

Crystal Schick, Photojournalist, Canada

Daniel DeFraia, freelance journalist, PhD student at Boston University

Daniel Rothenberg, Arizona State University

Daniel Van Mall, photojournalist

Daan Westra, Writer

Darius Bazargan, Producer BBC

Davood Mousavi, Freelance Photographer

Deborah Scranton, Oscar shortlisted (The War Tapes) & Peabody award-winning (Earth Made of Glass) Documentary Filmmaker

Donatella Della Ratta, Researcher Specialized on Syria, University of Copenhagen

Edith Bouvier, freelance journalist

Eliot Higgins, Founder, Bellingcat

Eskil Engdal, DN, Norway

Eva Plesner, freelance journalist based in Cairo, Egypt

Fadi Hallisso

Fakhri Al Haj Bakkar

Frank Smyth, Global Journalist Security

Fred Abrahams
Gavin John, photojournalist, Canada

Gert Van Langendonck, NRC Handelsblad, The Christian Science Monitor, Cairo

Ghassan Nader

Giovanni Ulleri, Emmy nominated Freelance Producer/Director

Hammam Youssef, Architect, Writer and Political activist

Hampus Andersson, Photojournalist, Sweden

Hania Mourtada, Freelance Journalist

Hannah Lucinda Smith, journalist, Istanbul

Hiba Dlewati, Freelance Journalist

Hozan Ibrahim

Iona Craig, Freelance Journalist, Yemen

Iyad Kallas

Jacob Hoigilt, Middle East Researcher, Oslo, Norway

Jan Axelsson, Documentary Filmmaker, News Correspondent, Sweden

Jehan Bseiso

Jenny Nordberg, Columnist & Correspondent, Svenska Dagbladet

Jess Hill, Journalist, Sydney

Johan Fredriksson, International Correspondent TV4, Sweden

John Beck, journalist, Istanbul

John Horgan, Director, Center for Terrorism and Security Studies, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, USA

Jonathan Krohn, Print Journalist, Erbil

Josh Shahryar, Journalist

KC Wildmoon, Editor, Storyful

Khaled Kazziha, Video Journalist Middle East and Africa

Kiran Nazish, Independent Journalist

Kenan Rahmani

Krisztina Satori, journalist

Lauren Bohn, Foreign Policy Columnist

Lauren Wolfe, Foreign Policy Columnist

Lena Odgaard, freelance journalist, Denmark

Leyland Cecco, Journalist, Canada

Lina Sergie, writer

Lise Balk King, Documentary Filmmaker, Former Fellow, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Kennedy School (2011-2014)

Mais Atassi

Maral Mirshahi, Research Assistant, Peace Research Institute, Oslo Norway

Maria Fuglevaag Warsinka-Varsi, Documentalist, Norway

Mary Rizzo, Editor, We Write What We Like and Levantine Rights

Massoud Akko, Journalist, Norway

Mayada Al-Khalil, activist

Maysun, photojournalist

Michael Weiss, Foreign Policy and Now Lebanon columnist

Michelle Woodward, Photo Editor, Beirut

Mikaela Matar, Journalist, Sweden

Mohamad Al Bardan, Syrian Nonviolence Movement

Mohammed Haj Agha, President, Syrian Revolutionary Martyrs, Writer/Critic

Molly Crabapple, artist and journalist

Naomi Ramirez Diaz, PhD Candidate at Autonoma University, Madrid

Nathalie Besér, foreign reporter Swedish News Agency TT

Neal Jackson, Former Chief Ethics Officer, NPR and Independent photojournalist and educator

Nicholas Marsh, Research Fellow, Peace Research Institute Oslo, Norway

Nisreen Alzaraee, Research Analyst

Olav Brostrup Müller, Journalist, Norway

Olly Lambert, Freelance filmmaker

Orjan Ellingvag

Oz Katetji, Journalist

Patrick O. Strickland, Freelance Journalist, Texas, USA

Paul Refsdal, Documentary Filmmaker, Norway

Phil Behan, Photojournalist, China

Phil Cox, Freelance Filmmaker

Pinar Tank, Senior Researcher PRIO

Reem Al-Assil, Syrian activist

Rebecca Murray, freelance journalist

Rey Byhre, Photojournalist, Kinshasa

Richard Hall, journalist, Beirut Lebanon

Rick Findler, Photojournalist, London

Rime Allaf, Syrian writer

Robin Morgan

Rossalyn Warren, Journalist, Buzzfeed

Ruth Michaelson, freelance journalist

Sabrina Hersi Issa, Human Rights Technologist

Safa Sankari, Syrian-American

Sasha Crow, Founder, Collateral Repair Project, Amman, Jordan

Sean Lee, Doctoral Candidate Northwestern University

Sergi Cabeza, journalist

Shelly Kittleson, freelance journalist

Sian O’Hara, freelance journalist, Beirut Lebanon

Sima Abedrabboh

Sima Diab, humanitarian, freelance photojournalist

Soraya Chemaly, Writer/Activist

Sulome Anderson, journalist

Susanna Inkinen, Finland/Denmark

Taha Bali

Teun Voeten, Freelance Photographer and Author, PhD candidate Leiden University

Thomas Rossi Rassloff, Freelance Photographer Germany

Tjeerd Kleign, RTL News, Holland

Tom Trewinnar, Checkdesk and Meedan

Vegard Tenold Aase, journalist, Norway

Veronica Pugh-Ramadan, Human Rights Activist

Victor Breiner, Photographer

Wisam Elhamoui, Activist Freedom Days

Zack Baddorf, freelance reporter

Dr. Zaher Sahloul, President Syrian American Medical Society

Zein Nachar

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  1. Reem Alhaj

    Please add my name as well, Reem Alhaj – student.

    And i highly appreciate your kind efforts.


  2. Shiyam Galyon

    Hi Sima,

    Would you add my name to this list please? thank you.

    Syrian American Council – Houston Chapter

  3. Ruben Lagattolla

    This action has the same value of corruption through political consensus. It is to easy to do, but this job (as this life) need to be lived in values.
    I was in Aleppo last May: with no sense of responsibility nobody should go and tell the war.

  4. The Norwegian Film Institute

    The Norwegian Film Institute strongly regret the impact Syrian Hero Boy may have for aid workers and journalists working in conflict areas.

    The Norwegian Film Institute granted this film in October 2013. The film was valued as an artistic project, where fiction was embeded in an authentic framework. We advised the filmmakers they should announce the intention of the film shortly after it was launched, but unfortunately it took them too long before that information was published. The damage was done and the rest of the handling was unprofessional and reprehensible.

    In the following we will evaluate our internal process and make sure that similar projects will be secured in a better way. This is important for the films and the filmmakers and it is important for us working at The Film Institute.

    The Norwegian Film Institute will continue to grant projects that focus on important questions, and in that work will bring with us the experience we have now.

  5. Alex Livesy

    I think they did a good job in the fact that people and hopefully specially journalists will look at media with a critical eye before printing as fact.

  6. The Audio and Visual Fund / Norway

    It is regrettable that film director Lars Klevberg did not announce sooner that the short film “Syrian Hero Boy” was in fact a publicity stunt, meant to generate a discussion about children in conflict zones.

    – Lars Klevberg’s film received funding from The Audio and Visual Fund as it was considered artistically interesting and a project worthy of support with good artistic intentions. The main problem is that the filmmakers waited five days before revealing that the film was an art project with a specific goal and message, and not authentic footage from Syria. The result of this was that the means got in the way of the message, says the Chairman of The Audio and Visual Fund, Torbjørn Urfjell.
    The project received 86 000 NOK in funding from The Audio and Visual Fund Film Committee in 2013.

    See also the article (only in Norwegian) on The Audio and Visual Fund’s webpage:

    The Audio and Visual Fund / Arts Council Norway

  7. Aram Shabanian

    Aram Shabanian, Independent Student Journalist, The Evergreen State College

    Please add me to the list, thank you.


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