We Win or We Die (2011)

Description (from the IMDb):
February, 2011. The people of Benghazi revolt against the brutal regime of Moammar Gaddafi. Yet standing in the way of liberation is the 2-mile sprawling fortress known as The Katiba. Holding hundreds of soldiers and heavy artillery, it stands poised to rain death down upon the protesters. WE WIN OR WE DIE is the story of an ordinary Libyan who understands that there is but one way to stop the bloodshed. One way to gain freedom. The sprawling fortress, the Fist of Gaddafi, the Katiba must fall…

Special Features:
None (Online Screener)

Directed by Matthew Millan

I already had the impression before watching WE WIN OR WE DIE that this was going to be a heavy film. All I really knew about WWoWD was that it was a short documentary having to do with the revolution in Libya, but I knew this wasn’t going to be a fluff piece. I was right. What I didn’t know was that, while heavy and sad, how moving this film and the story it tells, would be.

WWoWD tells the story of Mahdi Zew, a pretty average guy who made the decision that was anything but: for his country’s sake, he would martyr himself. Benghazi had always been somewhat anti-Gaddafi, and in February 2011 with the rise of the Arab Spring, protests broke out against the Colonel. The problem with trying to rise up in Benghazi was the Katiba, Gaddafi’s fortress in the city. As long as this fortress stood, the soldiers loyal to the dictator had walls to hide behind and attack from. Zew knew thins, and came to the conclusion that the uprising against this brutal dictator would never stand a chance if the people rising did not breech the walls of the Katiba, so Zew took opening the doors into his own hands.

Zew's daughters talk about his possible motivations
Zew’s daughters talk about his possible motivations

There is good reason for the people of Benghazi to see Zew as a hero, and for his family to be proud of his actions, while still not quite understanding what possessed him to make the decisions that he did. Libya was always a scary place, but as it was told in the interviews, standing up to Gaddafi was an even more daunting undertaking then just average everyday survival. This was a man that had ruled for over 40 years through brute force and sheer terror, and now that his power was being challenged, it was not surprising to think that his wrath would be fierce. Zew not only went out with the protestors, but he saw that obstacle that was the fortress and realized that there could be no meaningful change in Benghazi as long as its walls were in tact, and with that, he filled his car with explosives and opened the doors.

Celebrations made possible only by Zew's sacrifice
Celebrations made possible only by Zew’s sacrifice

WWoWD is told in a mix of recovered footage (mostly from cell phones), interviews, and animation, and through these varied sources paints the picture of what Zew was doing and why he did it. I wasn’t a huge fan of the style of the animation – it felt a bit cheesy and much lower budget than the rest of the movie as a whole – but it was an effective way to tell the story of Zew rather than just a narrative. The interviews very well done for the most part, with good lighting and sound where available to be set up so, and helped to shed a lot of light both on Zew as a man as well as the situation in Benghazi that pushed Zew into the position he found himself in. The recovered footage is pretty hard to watch, but that’s to be expected for stuff that was shot on someone’s cell phone while bullets are flying around them, and actually the franticness of the video adds to the franticness of the situation portrayed. The editing of WWoWD adds to the film as whole and helps to build not only the narrative and move the story along, but also is used in such a way to build tension (even though you really know what has happened with Zew from the very beginning).

V for victory.
V for victory.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed WWoWD. It is a good slice of life from an event that I didn’t know too much about, and it helped me see a side of things I have not seen before. The amount of heart this man had, and the love he had for his country that drove him to kill himself in order for his fellow man to be free is incredibly moving, and WWoWD does a great job of both telling that story and conveying that emotion. The film also dies a good job of telling a full story in a very short running time, and doing so without feeling the need to pad things out just to make it seem more grand; the story is epic enough on its own.

Overall 8 / 10

WWoWD on the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2065003/

WWoWD is not for sale.

WWoWD site: http://www.wewinorwedie.com/

WWoWD Poster


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