Posts Tagged ‘Arab Spring’

Katalyst blogspot archive 2009 – 2012

In Archive on November 23, 2015 at 20:15

For archive purposes, we’re reposting the old Katalyst Blogspot from 2009-2012 here.


“Addicted in Afghanistan” now available to stream or download!


It is with great excitement that we can finally announce our multi-award winning feature length documentary “Addicted in Afghanistan” is now available to stream or buy to download here!
Thanks to Distrify you can watch this film and if you embed it on your own blogs or websites, you get to earn  revenue from film sales!  Please see the Addicted website for further details about the film.

Sunday, 8 July 2012


Filming the “Accidental Activists”


As I am about to head back out to Libya to continue filming my documentary “Libya: After the Fall” and to film other stories about the many challenges Libyans face on the bumpy road to democracy, I wanted to take a moment to write about some of my experiences filming in Tripoli back in November & December 2011.  I initially wanted to make a film about the revolution itself entitled “Libya February 17.” It was to be a documentary recounting the brave stand many ordinary Libyans took to defy the rule of Muammar Gaddafi.  Armed with little but a tripod, my camera and a few contacts, I hit the ground running in Tripoli back in November 2011.  This post will mention just a few of these wonderfully brave Libyans I met.

Bab al Aziziya

Sharron Ward filming at Gaddafi’s Bab al Aziziyah compound Tripoli, Libya

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Salaam Libya!

In Libya on August 16, 2012 at 20:20

November 2011: We were flying low over a brown, dusty scorched landscape, dotted only by a few olive trees, outhouses, and the odd mosque standing proud with its tell-tale minarets.  Somehow I was surprised at the barren un-developed landscape – I had imagined that Tripoli was much more urban and developed.  There were cracks in the runway at Tripoli International Airport, over-grown grass all around us, and a huge skeleton of a building that had obviously stopped mid-construction.  Everything had appeared to have stopped during the civil war that had only really ended just two months before.  It was a miracle that Tripoli International Airport had opened at all, but a few carriers were brave enough to fly into an unknown security vacuum.  Libya was currently listed as “unstable” and as I had discovered, was about the lowest ranking you could possibly get on the insurance security index.  I had flown into Tripoli to start researching and filming my documentary “Libya After the Fall.”  I was mainly interested in documenting the many activists who had worked underground during the Revolution.  Their actions had gone largely unreported during the uprising, as Gaddafi had managed to exert a tight grip on foreign media visiting Tripoli during the civil war.  Now, with its fall I had a chance to meet and film some of the activists I had been following on twitter, Facebook and watching through the news.  But I also wanted to cover the post-conflict scenario.  Whilst many journalists and filmmakers were intent on documenting the revolution itself – I was more interested in “what’s next?” I am more interested in the complexities of war and its aftermath.  Getting rid of Gaddafi was the easy part – now came the long slow painful road to “democracy” – and I wanted to be there to document this chapter in history.

Tripoli International Airport

Standing in the queue at immigration I looked around me.  There were very few western faces – mainly oil and telecoms workers, scattered with a few humanitarian volunteers who had opted to come and do what they could.  The visa system was barely functioning and the process was to pick one upon arrival.  I was lucky enough to bump into Sami – a Libyan who had lived in Britain and who spoke perfect English with a British accent.  He offered to drive me to my Hotel and in typical Libyan hospitality he even offered me a phone and SIM card.  He was a security consultant and was looking at building up his business in Libya.  We chatted as I filmed on the long drive into downtown Tripoli.  Sami gestured to the right of me at a block of non-descript residential buildings.  “Just a couple of months ago, he said, they had green flags flying here.  This is a pro-Gaddafi suburb” – it turned out we were driving past the Abu Saleem neighbourhood, the site of Abu Saleem prison a notorious symbol of Gaddafi’s repression.

On the way, we stopped off at Bab Al Aziziyah – Gaddafi’s infamous and feared compound.  We drove around the sprawling grounds – it was a substantial site with numerous watchtowers, buildings (some of which Sami said were makeshift prisons), and underground bunkers.  It all lay in ruins – even Gaddafi’s famous residence – with the fist-gripping-the-American-missile statue – had been destroyed.  It was all rubble.  In a collective act of defiance and revenge anything to do with Gaddafi was mutilated, defaced and destroyed.  Many times I had seen footage of this statue, where Gaddafi had stood in front, defiantly shaking his fist and ominously threatening to hunt the people of Libya down “Zenga Zenga” – alleyway by alleyway.  Now many Libyans were treating it as a tourist attraction, driving in and hanging about taking photos, what a sweet victory it must have felt, I thought.  Sami had told me that people used to be even afraid of driving past it, now they were having picnics in it.

Sharron Ward filming at Bab al Aziziyah compound

Underground bunker at Bab Al Aziziyah

Driving into downtown Tripoli I was struck by three things.  One was the driving.  Libyans it appears don’t know how to drive.  This is of course a mass generalisation, but most Libyans will tell you the same thing.  I once joked with a driver from the ICRC about this and he said “Yes Libyans got their driver’s licenses from Santa Claus!”  An old joke to be sure, I can remember as a child in New Zealand laughing at the well-worn joke, that bad drivers got their licenses from “the bottom of a Weetabix packet” – the prize you get from a box of breakfast cereal.  It is however no laughing matter.  Libya has one of the worst RTA records in the whole of the Middle East.  It is the third-leading cause of death in Libya, according to the World Health Organization.  One explanation has it that “some attribute Libyans’ atrocious driving habits to the stifling political climate, with limited personal freedoms leading many to drive with little regard for others.”   Gaddafi may have controlled every aspect of Libyan life, but on the road one was free to do as he pleased.  A combination of cheap petrol, easily attained driver’s licenses and a disregard for road traffic rules, it seems make for a fatal combination.  Yet even with Gaddafi gone, the hazardous driving remained.  The main problem seemed to be that no one stayed in or stuck to a lane.  Lanes it appeared were “mere suggestions…” and so drivers just wove in and out of traffic lanes at will.  I have never seen this kind of driving anywhere else apart from Italy – Naples in particular.  Another oddity is the seatbelt.  Seatbelts, at least in taxis, are merely there for decoration.  I lost count of the number of times I had jumped in the back of a taxi to reach for a non-existent seat belt.  And if there was a functioning belt, you can bet it was covered in dust!

Driving in Tripoli

Parking in Tripoli

The second thing to strike me was the general state of the infrastructure.  There was none.  The roads were cracked and poorly maintained.  Downtown Tripoli was in a state.  There was rubbish everywhere.  The main roads were paved, but the side roads were not.  I was shocked by this.  Libya was a rich nation, drowning in oil, I had naively pictured a Dubai-like splendour, with paved roads, clean and modern hospitals, and sparkling shopping centres – but I found nothing of the sort.  I had watched the images on the news of Tripoli during the civil war – the small snippets you could see was of the gleaming 5-star Rixos Hotel and the fancy fish restaurant where Gaddafi gave his humorous and somewhat deluded  interview – “All my beople love me…” he had said with a straight face.  But that appeared to be the only highlights.  The rest of Tripoli was sadly run down and neglected.

Tripoli street

Downtown Tripoli

Occasionally you could see beautiful colonialist Italian architecture, stunning picturesque mosques and princely palaces, stuck cheek-by-jowl with ugly 60s blocks.  The ruins of Marcus Aurelius arch stood out as an oddity proudly amongst the beautiful faded splendour of the old city.  What had become of this once famed “Bride of the Mediterranean?” Of course it’s easy to excuse the rubbish and general state of disrepair – Tripoli had just emerged from a civil war, it had been bombed by NATO, things were barely functioning or working, let alone the garbage collectors.  Some proud Tripolitanians had taken the initiative and started up their own “Cleaning up Tripoli” campaign.  But many Libyans I spoke to complained of the general state of disrepair saying “it was like this before the war, Gaddafi never spent any money on Libya – perhaps on Sirte and Bani Walid – and on his family – but never on the rest of Libya.”  Mohammed Ali, one of the Libyans I was to film remarked that Gaddafi didn’t care about the beautiful historical architecture nor of the extensive Roman ruins to be found in Libya, instead he put up block after block of ugly non-descript, impersonal buildings (not dissimilar to the ugly 1960s sink estates of the UK.)  He was ashamed of the streets full of litter and wanted me to film elsewhere – Libyans are rightly a proud nation, always wanting Libya to be seen in the best light and who could blame him.

Marcus Aurelius Arch

Beautiful palace

Corinthia Hotel

During my many interviews and chats with the residents of Tripoli, I was to hear one refrain over and over again: “What did Gaddafi ever do for us?  He did nothing.”   But I had said, “at least the main roads are good!”  Hamid, one of the twitter activists I was to later meet, explained to me that even the pristine main highways were built during King Idris’ time – it was not the work of Gaddafi.  I was to later visit TMC – Tripoli Medical Centre, Shah Zawiayh St hospital as well as Abu Saleem hospital – medical services which are described even by Libyans themselves as inadequate and “third world.”  Ali Tweel another “twitterist” active during the revolution told me that most Libyans, when they can afford it, go to neighbouring countries like Tunisia for medical health care.  He himself had just come back from Tunisia for an operation to his back.  The education system, the electrical infrastructure, the roads, the hospitals – you name it, Gaddafi had neglected it.  Hamid had remarked one evening on the long drive back to downtown Tripoli from his home in Ain Zara – “you see the road signs here? They have only just gone up in the last two years or so.  Gaddafi was paranoid that the Americans would invade us, so he took all the road signs down so they wouldn’t be able to find their way to Tripoli.  He’s so stupid,” said Hamid laughing, “he’s never heard of GPS.”

Tripoli road signs

The third thing that struck me about Libya was – the Libyans.  I have never met such a warm, generous and hospitable bunch of people.  Libyans have a great pride in their country and culture and wherever I went I was showered with traditional Libyan sweets, “Quality Street” chocolates (strangely enough) and offers of help and advice.   Many of the Libyans I met spoke excellent English – an act of defiance in itself, as Gaddafi had banned the learning of English in schools.  The vast majority of people seemed incredibly happy that they were now free.  Wherever I went filming in the streets of Tripoli, I was met with the ubiquitous “V” sign accompanied by victorious shouts of “Allu Akbar – god is great!”

For now at least, Tripoli was just happy to finally be rid of Gaddafi.

Tripoli Brigade, Martyr’s Square

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