Saving South Sudan (2014)

In February 2014, journalist Robert Young Pelton and photojournalist Tim Freccia traveled to South Sudan to investigate the reasons for its quickly devolving civil war. Sudan has been divided by war for centuries. The Arab North preyed on the black Christian South. In the early eighties oil was discovered and the war intensified. Finally, after six decades of war both sides realized they needed to find peace to take advantage of the black gold.

In July of 2011 South Sudan finally achieved its own independence and became the world's newest nation. The majority Dinka tribe was represented by former military commander and now President Salva Kiir Mayardit. The second largest group, the Nuer, was represented by Dr. Riek Machar Teny who was appointed Vice President.

Things were looking up for South Sudan and now it had an official government. It was at peace with its Northern neighbor and both were glad to capitalize on the expected flow of oil and other natural resources. But on December 15th, 2013, everything fell apart.

Fighting in South Sudan had spread outside the capital Juba after reported coup attempt. President Salva Kiir immediately accused his former Vice President of orchestrating the fighting. The coup attempt is said to have started within the presidential guard. After the fight Dinka soldiers and the militia targeted Nuer soldiers and civilians. Soon over a thousand people were dead... mostly Nuer.

The next day President Salva Kiir sent soldiers and a tank over the Riek Machar's house. Luckily Dr. Machar and his wife Angelina had escaped the night before. To the outside world it just seemed like another violence speed bump on the road to prosperity. Except Dr. Riek Machar was planning to fight back and he was going to fight back in a way that would throw South Sudan into another civil war.

Robert Young Pelton needed to find Dr. Riek Machar and get his side of the story. So he teamed up with photojournalist and filmmaker Tim Freccia and to help facilitate their journey into the bush he also invited his friend Machot Lat Thiep, a former lost boy and Nuer child soldier to return to his homeland in South Sudan.

My Neighbor, My Enemy (2013)

Syria Street in North Tripoli, Lebanon is home to a decades-old sectarian conflict between the local Sunni Muslim and Alawite communities. The Alawite inhabitants of the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood primarily support the Assad regime of Damascus, whereas the Sunnis living in Bab al Tabbaneh promote the rebellion in Syria. Though the Lebanese military attempts to maintain a peacekeeping presence in the area, they are questionably effective given the regular eruptions of gunfire between the two sects.
Shootouts are so common that those living in Tabbaneh will even create 'sniper screens' to hide themselves from their Alawite neighbors who live uphill and use this vantage point to their benefit when instigating an assault. On one end of Syria Street lives Sheikh Bilal al-Masri, a prominent figure in Tabbaneh. He portrays his people as the victims, describing them as a minimally armed group of families acting in defense against their constant aggressors. He lists the horrors he's seen come out of the Syrian regime including, but not limited to, torture, rape, and looting.
On the other end of Syria Street is Abu Rami, who defends his allegiance to the regime with equal persuasion. Also a prominent figure in his respective community, Rami has earned the nickname 'living martyr' for the number of times he's been wounded defending his territory over the last thirty years. He explains that he fears humiliation over death, and his definition of humiliation is a bleak one

The Islamic State (2014)

The Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), permitted filmmaker and Vice News journalist Medyan Dairieh to have exclusive access to their operations for three weeks, allowing viewers insight into the horrifying inner world of jihadist militant extremists.

Devastating footage of executions and men lying beheaded in the street illustrates the severity of the threat of the Islamic State. Militants patrol the streets to ensure their religious standards are being upheld, and citizens are encouraged to report any transgressors, even if they are family members. One man is stopped and instructed to make his wife change the fabric of her veil, and although the tone is polite it is clear the requestor is telling, not asking. The influence of the enforcers is evident - prisoners who have dared disobey the IS laws are full of self-blame, accepting their punishments to be the will of Allah. Disobedience will not be tolerated by man or God.

Preaching centers serve as meeting grounds for fanatics young and old as they celebrate their faith by raising guns above their heads and sing songs of triumph over America and the European countries. As the borders between Syria and Iraq are crossed, IS fighters defend their growth, ever insistent that their actions are defended by the will of their God, even as women and children lay bloodied and dying before them.

Operating under Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a self-proclaimed descendant of the Prophet, followers are taught to surrender everything to him, be it their money or their lives. Interviews with young boys attending a Mosque service demonstrate the fundamentalist mindset that is being ingrained in the local children, who are as eager as their adult counterparts to enact what they believe to be God's will through acts of violence and self-sacrifice.

It is the belief of the adults that their hardships bring them closer to their God and that the children are meant to be 'the generation of the Caliphate' who will combat the Americans and their 'infidel' allies. Those under fifteen are sent to Shariah camp to learn about their religion, while older teens are sent to military camp to train for combat; however, it is not uncommon for the younger children to already be practiced in handling arms and bracing for conflict.

The Islamic State is a stark, harrowing wake-up call to the realities of religious fundamentalism in the Middle East and the corruption of generations being raised to believe violence is the best defense of their beliefs.

Battle at Home (2013)

The reputation of the American soldier is one of valor and bravery, an image that continues to be sold to young patriots in an effort to recruit them into the military. However, the reality of war and its long-term psychological consequences is a world apart from the strapping hero one may conjure in their mind's eye. Battle at Home examines trends of violence in American soldiers, and the contributing factors that may play into their acts of misconduct.

What could make someone capable of enacting egregiously violent crimes not only against foreign civilians during tours of duty, but friends and loved ones once home? Through interviews with legal experts, psychologists, and veterans, host Shawn Musgrave explores the role of pre-existing mental health afflictions, post-traumatic afflictions, and increasingly aggressive military instruction in creating desensitized soldiers. While one subject blames the violent misbehavior of veterans on existing psychological conditions, the more common belief is that the stresses of wartime combined alone are often enough to cause an otherwise good soldier to snap.

In one of the most powerful stories shared in the film, author David Philips tells of Jon Needham. A well-liked and honorable young man, Needham left his life as a professional surfer to serve his country at the peak of the Iraq war. Regarded as one of the best soldiers in his platoon, he faced backlash from his peers when he failed to support them in killing civilians, mutilating dead bodies, and covering up their transgressions. In an act of retaliation, Needham attempted to shoot a member of his platoon - an act that resulted in his being discharged and returned home. Failing to receive treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to overcrowding at the nearest VA Hospital, Needham continued to suffer flashbacks and disorientation. It was most likely during one of these episodes that he unwittingly beat his girlfriend to death.

Needham's story is just one of many addressed in this episode of Aperture. Also focusing on the fluctuation in military standards of conduct and how they've changed in the time between Vietnam and Iraq, as well as the effects of serving back-to-back deployments, Battle at Home strips away the romanticized notions of war by revealing the suffering of the warriors.

MH17: Caught in the Crossfire (2014)

The world media caught fire on July 17th, 2014 when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over pro-Russian separatist territory in the Ukraine. All 283 passengers and 15 crew members were killed in the catastrophe, figures that combined to make up both the deadliest air incident in the history of the Ukraine, as well as the deadliest shooting down of a commercial flight worldwide.

The disaster sparked a heated global debate amongst world powers as to who was at fault, declarations that the killers would be brought to justice and the bodies brought home at all costs, and a number of implications that the Russian government was far more on the hook for the deaths than they were accepting responsibility for.

MH17: Caught in the Crossfire deeply probes into issues relating to the incident, both direct and indirect, and takes the audience to the region of the Ukraine where a battle is waging between pro and anti-Russian Ukrainians. The filmmakers also pay heavy attention to the process of excavating the human remains from the crash site, the transporting of them to their rightful resting places, and the abundance of controversy that stemmed from those efforts.

After fully examining the crash and the people that occupy the territory it took place in, the film turns to the ensuing military actions that Vladimir Putin initiated following the incident, and the political controversy that ensued as a result. A great number of pundits and media personnel were quick to spin the actions as having ulterior motives, and many global powers took the bait and condemned them publicly.

The film closes on a story as positive as one could be on the subject matter, following Dutch journalist Rudy Bouma, who was the first Dutch reporter to cover the wreckage from the crash site. Having close personal connections to one of the victims and experiencing the aftermath firsthand, Bouma decided to pick a number of the sunflowers from the vast fields of them the plane crashed into, and take them to Holland to be part of a photography memorial for the victims and their families.

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