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Tribeca '21 Film Review: Simple as Water

Updated: Jul 13


A Syrian mother sits on the ground and holds the hand of her young child who stands with a finger in his mouth

The conflict in Syria was probably the most prominent international concern of documentary filmmakers through the 2010s with many titles emerging from the war’s early days on through its escalating tragedy. Three such titles were included on my own list of the best documentaries of the decade (Return to Homs; The Cave; Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait), with many other significant titles receiving acclaim and Academy Award nominations (The White Helmets, Last Men in Aleppo, Watani: My Homeland, For Sama). This trend has not abated—because, well, the horror of Syria has not abated.


In Oscar winner Megan Mylan’s Simple as Water, the journeys of four refugees and their families are explored as they attempt to begin new lives for themselves and their families. Often separated by borders and even oceans, Mylan’s film does as all of these films have done and give the unvarnished (yes, simple) truth about the Syrians’ humanity and desire for the most basic of rights in the face of such unimaginable terror. The sort of terror where not even hospitals and schools are safe for the most vulnerable of citizens. Simple as Water doesn’t shy away from these realities, but it also ensures that the small-scale stories of its victims are first and foremost among its concerns.


Unfolding over episodic encounters, Mylan’s camera takes us to Turkey, Greece, the United States, Germany and, of course, Syria. We witness families split up in their travels fighting to make their way back to each other while also attempting to make a daily life for themselves away from shelling and bombs of their homeland. The strongest thread, and the most connected of the film, is that of a family whose father has made it to Germany while his wife and children live in tends on the side of a road in another country as they seek a reunion to their plight.


Intimately shot, it’s only once the credits role that the impact of Mylan’s film really makes its biggest impact. There are still so many untold stories from Syria that demand our attention and Mylan has found a modest but strong way of showing us just a few of them.

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