Nicole Tung and Janine di Giovanni - Last journey to Syria

The film 7 Days in Syria follows journalist Janine di Giovanni and photographer Nicole Tung on their trip to the war-torn country in late 2012. It tells compelling stories of everyday Syrians and from the front line, but also a story about journalism and sacrifice. Nicole Tung: ‘I hated that I had to leave Syria.’

‘Am I not a journalist when I don’t believe in objectivity?’ photographer Nicole Tung asks in an interview via Skype. ‘I spent a week in a hospital in Aleppo where around the clock wounded people were brought in. Then you know that there is a right and a wrong. It’s a thin line between journalism and activism, but I do consider myself a journalist. I don’t think objectivity exists to begin with.’

It’s a subject Tung ponders a lot. But when in Syria with her friend and colleague Janine di Giovanni, her top priority was being careful and making sure to leave the country safely. It was late 2012, early 2013, and Di Giovanni proposed stories about Syria to Newsweek, but the magazine deemed the country too dangerous and rejected her proposal. Di Giovanni went anyway. In the film 7 Days in Syria, Di Giovanni – who was about to leave for Iran to make stories and didn’t have time for an interview – says: ‘If no one is there to tell the story of what’s happening, then there is just going to be silence and the pages of history are not going to be written.’

It was dangerous, of course. Just some three weeks before Di Giovanni’s and Tung’s last journey to Syria, the American journalist James Foley was kidnapped. Nicole Tung knew him and was worried sick. During the filming of 7 Days in Syria, the news came of journalists being captured not too far from where Tung and Di Giovanni were – these turned out to be NBC’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and his team; they escaped from captivity after five days. Journalist Steven Sotloff was in Aleppo during the filming. He talked with the others about their colleagues disappearing and about how they could help – if at all. Sotloff would be kidnapped in August that year, 2013. Both James Foley and Steven Sotloff didn’t survive their captivity by ISIS: Foley was beheaded in August 2014, Sotloff a few weeks later in September. Janine di Giovanni and Nicole Tung dedicate their film to their colleagues who gave everything.

Tung considers it very important that many people see 7 Days in Syria, maybe even more so because it was all recorded some three years ago. She says: ‘It may be a bit outdated, but it shows how the civil war started. It didn’t start with ISIS, although they dominate the news now. It started with an uprising, with normal people, and it soon turned into a war in which the civilians suffered the  most. We should not forget that.’

By Fréderike Geerdink