Matthew VanDyke: Tinker, Teacher, Soldier, Almost Spy

Matthew VanDyke is the director of Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution, a short documentary about the Syrian revolution playing at the 16th annual Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival. I interviewed VanDyke by phone and I have to admit that his story is probably one of the most intriguing stories that I've ever heard of any filmmaker to come to this festival. In fact, his story could almost be that of a John le Carré novel.

What's remarkable is that VanDyke never intended to be a filmmaker. He graduated from UMBC in 2002. He then got his Master's degree from Georgetown University in 2004. He studied political science and worked under Middle East experts. He even applied to the CIA. Yes, he was almost a spy. He dropped out after his views changed due to the politics surrounding the Iraq war.

When he was younger, he always admired Alby Mangels, the Australian who made safari films and traveled the world. His interest in the Arab world drove him to countries like Libya where friends in that country asked for his help. He set his Mangels-inspired mission and instead become a soldier fighting on the side of the rebels trying to oust Muammar Gaddafi, the brutal dictator who ruled Libya for over 40 years.

As a result, VanDyke was captured and imprisoned in solitary confinement in 2011 for nearly six months. He was able to escape when fellow political prisoners freed him during a prison break. Instead of returning to the United States and doing something less dangerous like being an English teacher, which is a job he did have, VanDyke continued to fight on the front lines with the Libyan rebels. All of this gained him a ton of media attention, but he stayed in the war zone until Gaddafi was finally removed from power and killed.

By this time, the Arab Spring was already in full swing, and the situation VanDyke saw in Libya was playing out in other countries and like with Libya, people in those countries were asking for help. He looked next to the situation in Syria.

Protestors nationwide calling for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad took up arms when Assad unleashed military force on the protestors.

Months before arriving, VanDyke saw that the best contribution that he could make was to try to raise awareness of the situation and get international support, rather than fight on the front line. Because he had started a documentary previously, he wanted to start another, this time focusing on the Syrian conflict.

While in Syria, VanDyke met two people who would become the subjects of his documentary. They are 24-year-old photographer Nour Kelze and 32-year-old guard Omar Hattab aka Mowya.

Mowya (left) and Nour Kelze in
"Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution"
Both Nour and Mowya are in Aleppo, which is the largest city in the country. Nour has witnessed so many friends get shot and die. Mowya was tortured for speaking out against Assad. Both walk the bombed and empty streets that used to be downtown Aleppo. Both want to share these images with the world in the hopes of garnering change or help.

One informative scene is when Mowya points to a cat that Nour is holding and he talks about how Americans would be more willing to help the cat than the Syrian people. It's a snipe at Americans, but, as much an appeal to American compassion and empathy. This scene is also representative of VanDyke's appeal as well. The first-time filmmaker wants this movie to be a documentary that doesn't rattle off a bunch of facts but instead pulls at the heart-strings. He said his goal is to have wet eyes in the theater.

VanDyke reinforces that he's not a journalist. He's not here simply to report. He's an activist. He says, "In my heart, I'm a fighter." He let me know that if it were appropriate for him to fight in Syria, he would, but for now he's going to focus on more educational and emotional tactics to aid in Syria's revolution.

Despite being completed, the cost of making Not Anymore is still on-going. Vandyke started an online fundraising campaign at His hope is to raise $30,000, which no doubt includes equipment, travel and other production and post-production expenses involved with making a movie.

Two-time, Academy Award-nominated director Marshall Curry is working with VanDyke to produce a movie about his experiences, which will include footage that Vandyke shot himself. It's set to be released in 2014.

Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution
Playing Sunday, November 10 at 10AM.
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
For more information, go to:


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