Growing up in Gaza in the dark

“Growing up in Gaza in the Dark” for NBC Left Field.

What’s it like growing up under Israeli blockade in Gaza? Watch our film on a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who wants to be the next Michael Phelps.

Director, camera and editor: Matthew Cassel
Assistant Producer: Amjed Tantesh

A Bitter Eden

A Bitter Eden” for The New Yorker magazine

The fighting in the Raqqa has ended, but the people who fled ISIS’s control of the Syrian city are still unsure when they can go back. Some have traveled to Europe, but many more have sought refuge closer to home. In Yamouni, a small Lebanese village not far from the Syrian border, there are a few hundred Raqqawis who live in camps and work in the farmlands as they eagerly wait for the first opportunity to return to their homes.

The idea for this project came after seeing the work of Alia Haju, who has been visiting and photographing Yamouni for many years. We knew we wanted to film something there together, but we weren’t sure what the story would be. Then we met Hamadeh and his relatives.

Directed, filmed and edited by Matthew Cassel
Produced by Alia Haju

Equipment used: Sony A7SII, DJI Mavic Pro, Zhiyun Crane

Victims of Torture

For this assignment, I was asked by Médecins Sans Frontières to film profiles of two people who receive treatment from MSF’s Victims of Torture unit in Athens, Greece.

Directed, produced, filmed and edited by Matthew Cassel

Fleeing Iraq, stuck in Greece

Najwa is an Kurdish-Iraqi mother from Mosul. After ISIS occupied her city and killed her Arab-Syrian husband for his “illegitimate” marriage to a Kurd, she fled Iraq with her three sons, two of whom have severe disabilities. They spent more than a year surviving on the streets of Istanbul, before gathering enough money to pay smugglers to come to Greece. I met them on Lesbos island in early 2017. They’ve since moved to Athens, but they’re still hoping for the chance to go to another European country to get better healthcare for two of the boys who desperately need it.

I made this short video on the family for friends who run the website

The Journey

For 31-year-old Aboud, seeking asylum in Europe is the only way the Syrian father can reunite with his wife and two children. The only problem is getting there. I spent one year with Aboud as he set out on a grueling and uncertain journey from Istanbul to the Netherlands, when he would become one of the pioneers of what would be known as the “Balkan route.” Meanwhile, his wife Christine and their children prepare to leave their home in Damascus for a new life in Europe. Watch all six episodes above.

“The Journey” was commissioned by Field Of Vision, and published in English with The New Yorker, and in seven other languages. In December 2017, the series won film of the year at the UN’s Global Migration Festival.

Directed, produced, filmed and co-edited by Matthew Cassel
Edited and co-produced by Olivia Dehez
Filmed in Syria by Simone Safieh
Executive producers: Laura Poitras, AJ Schnack and Charlotte Cook for Field Of Vision

Translation/transcription by Bassel Halabi and Ali Si Hosseini
Color correcting by Pilou
Sound mixing by Post Biyik

Equipment used: Canon C-100 MkII, iPhone, Sony A7SII, Sony FS5, Canon 70D.

Welcoming refugees in Macedonia

Short film for Al Jazeera English.

For people like Gabriela Andreevska, working with Europe-bound refugees crossing her country, Macedonia, feels like the film “Groundhog Day”. Every day, thousands arrive from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq ,Pakistan and elsewhere to Gevgelija, on the border with Greece.

Most are completely unprepared for the journey. They know little about what they need to do, and they’re often travelling with nothing except the clothes on the backs. The Macedonian government provides little for the refugees crossing its borders illegally. That is where ordinary Macedonians like Gabriela step in.

She, along with other activists, provide the weary travellers with food, clothes, information, and hugs. “I know it’s not part of their culture for me to touch a man, but I do it to let them know they’re welcome in Europe,” she says.

After a few hours in Gevgelija, most refugees board one of the three daily Soviet-era trains and continue on to the border with Serbia. But for Gabriela, the situation resets.

After a tiring day helping hundreds of people, she has to prepare for tomorrow, when she will do the same thing all over again. Every day is very much the same for her, but for the refugees it is a new place and another step on their way to a new life in Western Europe.

Directed, filmed, produced, and edited by Matthew Cassel

Occupied and High in Jerusalem

Some young Palestinians in Occupied East Jerusalem are turning to drugs, including a new and dangerous synthetic cannabis product called “Mr. Niceguy.”

For AJ+, I went to Jerusalem and spoke with users, anti-drug activists and a treatment specialist to find out how Israel’s military occupation is contributing to increased drug use among Palestinians.

Watch the three-part series below.

Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Inside Syriza

For this three-part series for AJ+, I traveled to Athens, Greece in the run-up to historic elections that saw the rise of the radical left and anti-austerity Syriza party. I followed one of its activists, Olga Balaoura, in the final days of campaigning and during the election results.

Directed, produced, filmed and edited by Matthew Cassel
Co-produced by Ilias Madouros

Equipment used: Canon C-100 MkII

Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution

As revolution swept through the Arab world in spring of 2011, much of the writing that reached the West came via analysts and academics, experts and expats. We heard about Facebook posts and tweeted calls to action, but what was missing was testimony from on-the-ground participants—which is precisely what Layla Al-Zubaidi, Matthew Cassel and Nemonie Craven have brought together in Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution. These essays and profoundly moving, often harrowing, firsthand accounts span the region from Tunisia to Syria and include contributors ranging from student activists to seasoned journalists—half of whom are women. This unique collection explores just how deeply politics can be held within the personal and highlights the power of writing in a time of revolution.

“Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution” reviewed in the NYT.

Buy the book online.

March in Istanbul to mourn Kobane fighter

There have been many reports about the thousands of foreigners joining the ranks of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as it continues to make gains in Syria and Iraq, but less about those foreigners joining the fight against them.

Suphi Nejat Agirnasli was one of them. And on October 5, while fighting alongside besieged Kurds in the town of Kobane of northern Syria, he was killed in battle.

Agirnasli, a 30-year-old Turkish-German, was a member of Turkey’s banned Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP). He was not ethnically Kurdish, but in August he left his home in Istanbul to join the People’s Protection Units (YPG), an armed Syrian-Kurdish group that in recent months has defended Kurdish areas from ISIL’s offensive. In September, after taking a number of Kurdish town in northern Syria, ISIL laid s siege to Kobane in a battle that is still raging. While in Syria, Agirnasli used the nom de guerre Paramaz Kizilbas, an Armenian leftist who was executed in Istanbul in 1915.

On Sunday, October 19, hundreds of mourners commemorated Agirnasli’s death with a march through Istanbul’s Kadikoy district.

Read Al Jazeera America’s report on Agirnasli.