A Norwegian filmmaker is under fire after admitting to staging a viral video of Syrian kids dodging bullets in order to stir "debate" about war’s effect on children.
Director Lars Klevberg, 34, posted the dramatic clip in question to YouTube on Nov. 10, titled "Syria! Syrian hero boy rescue[s] girl in shootout," but admitted on Friday that the entire ordeal had been staged. He's now facing major backlash from advocates and journalists who say the highly circulated clip has caused irreparable damage.
Over the course of a tense minute, a determined boy runs into the line of fire, endures a gunshot wound and helps a young girl dressed in pink run to safety as bullets spray through the air.
The clip quickly spread after getting picked up by Shaam Network, who told The WorldPost on Thursday that the video was real and that "this type of scene repeats itself in Syria on a daily basis."
Klevberg admitted on Friday that the video -- which was produced in Malta and has gotten more than 4 million views -- was a hoax, but said that he didn’t intend just to deceive viewers.
"If I could make a film and pretend it was real, people would share it and react with hope," Klevberg told the BBC. "We wanted to see if the film would get attention and spur debate, first and foremost about children and war."
Advocates, however, were not so keen on Klevberg’s "experiment," which received funding from the Norwegian Film Institute (NFI) and the Audio and Visual Fund from Arts Council Norway, according to the BBC. Detractors see the hoax as directly undermining the struggles Syrian kids and journalists face.
"It is reckless and irresponsible to distribute a fictional film as real footage thus belittling the very real suffering of Syria's children and the very serious work by professional and citizen journalists inside Syria," an open letter signed by more than 70 journalists and activists reads.
The undersigned also took issue with the fact that the fake video could call into question actual corroborated material coming out of the war zone.
"Rather than shed light on a generation lost, the film has instead endangered lives, placed the burden of proof on those suffering rather than on those who cause the suffering, and belittled the very courageous spirit in which people work in conflict zones," the letter reads.
As of August, the death toll from Syria’s three-and-half-year conflict topped 191,000 people, according to the U.N.
Altogether, more than 6.5 million children have been affected by the crisis, which has deprived them of education, proper health care and has left many with no choice but to beg or work as cheap laborers.
A number of initiatives, however, have been bringing hope to suffering children.
No Lost Generation, for example, has increased the number of Syrian refugee children enrolled in school to about 500,000 from 170,000 in the past year, according to UNICEF. Groups have found ways to build makeshift schools, and even one in Suruc, Turkey, that’s housed in a blue tent has proven to have a powerful impact.
"In the beginning ... they were doing drawings of beheadings and weapons," Fidan Kanlibas, a volunteer teacher, told the Associated Press earlier this month. "The fear they saw was reflected in their drawings. Now, you can see they are smiling and recovering from the things they saw and the pressure of war."