Matthew VanDyke

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Matthew VanDyke
Nationality United States of America
Other names Matt VanDyke
Education UMBC, Georgetown University
Organization Ali Hassan al-Jaber Brigade, National Liberation Army (Libya)
Known for Fighting on the side of the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi in the Libyan Civil War, assisting the uprising against Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War
Notable work(s)
  • Point and Shoot[1]
  • Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution[2]
Religion Christian[3][vague]
Website
matthewvandyke.com

Matthew VanDyke is an American documentary filmmaker, revolutionary, and former journalist.[4][5] He gained notoriety during the Libyan Civil War as a foreign fighter on the side of the uprising and as a prisoner of war.

As a journalist and documentary filmmaker, VanDyke traveled throughout North Africa and the Middle East by motorcycle from 2007–2011. His experiences and observations during these four years led him to join the Libyan Civil War as a rebel fighter. VanDyke has publicly announced his support of revolutions in the Arab world, and stated his intention to assist them using a variety of means, including participating as an armed combatant.[6][7]

Early life[edit]

Education[edit]

In 2002 VanDyke received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), graduating summa cum laude.[8][9]

At UMBC, VanDyke first began to study the Arab world. VanDyke later studied in the Security Studies Program (SSP) at Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service from 2002-2004. He received his master's degree in Security Studies with a Middle East regional concentration in 2004.[8] As a graduate student at Georgetown University he wrote a political column for the campus newspaper, The Hoya, and co-hosted a radio talk show on the Georgetown University radio station, WGTB.[10] VanDyke is a member of Mensa, a social organization whose members are in the top 2% of intelligence as measured by an IQ test entrance exam.[11]

Motorcycle Journey[edit]

In 2004, VanDyke graduated from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service with a master's degree in Security Studies with a Middle East concentration.[12] His desire to see the Arab World for himself led him to supplement his academic pursuits with two long introspective journeys that would fundamentally change the way he viewed himself and the Arab World.[13][14][15] The first expedition from 2007-2009 was a solo trip through North Africa and the Middle East on a Kawasaki KLR650 motorcycle that included journeys in Morocco, Mauritania, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.[11] This was followed in 2010 by a six-month motorcycle trek from Iraq, through Iran, to Afghanistan. For the latter, he traveled with his friend American photographer Daniel Britt, with the final goal of spending a few weeks embedded to film the US military in Afghanistan.[11][16][17]

VanDyke made several close friends in Tripoli, Libya in 2008; those friendships were instrumental in making his decision to fight in the Libyan Civil War in 2011.[11][13][16] VanDyke lived in Iraq later in 2008 and 2009, teaching English at a University to fund his motorcycle journey.[17][18] He also filmed the US military in Iraq and briefly worked as a war correspondent.[17][19]

VanDyke filmed his motorcycle journeys from 2007-2010 and some of the footage was used in the feature documentary about VanDyke, Point and Shoot, which won the Best Documentary Award at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014.[20][21]

Libyan Civil War[edit]

In February, the Libyan Civil War began, and VanDyke was in contact with several of his Libyan friends in Tripoli, Libya via email and Facebook. "My friends were telling me about family members being arrested or disappearing or being injured. They would say to me things like, 'Why doesn’t anybody help us?' So I said I would be there."[7]

VanDyke went to Libya with the intention of joining the rebel force opposing the government of Muammar Gaddafi. At the time, there was no international military support for the rebels, and it appeared that NATO would not intervene. Gaddafi had air superiority and his military was significantly stronger than the rebel force.[22] "I knew that they needed people to go fight. There was no NATO at that time. It didn't look like there would be NATO involvement or foreign involvement. It was a very, very desperate situation of Gaddafi's army moving towards Benghazi, and it was an all or nothing situation."[23]

Prisoner of war[edit]

On 13 March 2011, VanDyke was struck on the head during an ambush in Brega and lost his memory of what happened. VanDyke regained consciousness briefly during his transport from Brega to a prison, which he believes was in Sirte. He was interrogated and told he would never see America again.[24][25]

Sometime within the next 24–48 hours VanDyke was flown to Tripoli, where he was imprisoned in the Maktab al-Nasser prison in the Abu Salim district of Tripoli. VanDyke was held in solitary confinement, in a 1.2m x 2.2m (4 ft x 7 ft) cell with a small skylight in the ceiling. He was fed and allowed to use the toilet three times a day, but was not allowed outside or given anything to read or other materials. VanDyke also suffered the psychological effects of solitary confinement.[3]

After 85 days VanDyke was blindfolded, handcuffed, and transported to Abu Salim prison, where he would spend the next 81 days, also in solitary confinement. The psychological torture of the solitary confinement was made worse by VanDyke's obsessive-compulsive disorder.[26][27] On August 24, 2011 prisoners broke the lock off his cell and he escaped prison.[3] Free from prison, VanDyke stayed at the home of a fellow escapee for a few days before relocating to the Corinthia Hotel Tripoli as a guest of the National Transitional Council, and spoke to reporters about his experience as a prisoner of war.[3][27][28]

International media coverage[edit]

Shortly after his capture was reported, he was incorrectly described by the media as a freelance journalist.[29] Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including the Committee to Protect Journalists,[30] attempted to pressure the Gaddafi government on his behalf.[31] On May 25, Deputy Libyan Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said he had no information about VanDyke.[8] In early August, after nearly five months of denials, the Gaddafi government finally admitted that VanDyke was in custody, but would not allow anyone to speak with or visit him, and would not reveal which prison he was being held in.[32] Human Rights Watch visited Abu Salim prison and asked if VanDyke was being held there. Prison officials denied that he was there, when in fact he was.[31]

VanDyke also stated that he would not leave Libya until the country was free and all cities were liberated from Gaddafi's forces.[6][27][33] He also said he would not leave until all rebel Prisoners of War (POWs) being held by Gaddafi forces were rescued from prison, including the three rebel fighters he was captured with.[3][34]

VanDyke has been compared to revolutionary Che Guevara in the media,[11][34][35] and to foreign fighters of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War.[17][25][36] He appears regularly in the media as a media personality and media commentator.[37][38][39]

Joining the National Liberation Army[edit]

VanDyke went to Ra's Lanuf, meeting with the commander of the Ali Hassan al-Jaber Brigade, who allowed them to enlist in the National Liberation Army.[40]

VanDyke remained on or near the front lines as the rebels advanced from Harawa to Sirte. At the Battle of Sirte he took part in heavy fighting on the eastern front, most notably near Jazeera, Sirte Hotel, Sirte University, Dubai Street, and the Emirates apartment complex, as well as other engagements.[41][42] During this time VanDyke used a variety of weapons in combat and served in a variety of roles, but was primarily a DShK (Dushka) gunner. When not in combat, Fonas and VanDyke often gave tours of the battlefield and assisted the international press to help them safely and reliably report on the Battle of Sirte.[43] During one such mission they escorted CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey and his crew to the front lines in Sirte, at which time VanDyke was filmed in combat. This was aired on the CBS Evening News in the United States, and was the first combat footage of VanDyke to emerge.[44] Additional footage of him fighting in Sirte would later be made public in American television broadcasts and online.[7][45]

Film career[edit]

Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution[edit]

Upon returning to the United States from Libya at the end of 2011, VanDyke was asked by the press at the airport about his future plans. He stated that he would be working in other revolutions, including likely participation as an armed combatant at some point in the future.[6][7][46] In 2012 VanDyke began preparations to make a short documentary film, Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution, to help improve world opinion of the Syrian rebel forces in the Syrian Civil War and encourage the international community to support them.[47][48] VanDyke has stated that his decision to film instead of fight at that stage of the war was based on equipment shortages among the rebels, a problem that he felt his film could help address by increasing international support.[49][50] He self-financed the film with his own money, spending approximately $30,000.[51][52]

VanDyke traveled to Syria in October 2012 and filmed for around a month in the city of Aleppo.[53] Filming in Aleppo was dangerous due to artillery barrages, aircraft attacks, snipers, and the threat of kidnapping due to VanDyke's status as a public figure.[50][54] While in Syria making Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution, the Syrian government broadcast on numerous Syrian State Television channels that VanDyke was a terrorist who had come to fight against the government as part of the rebel Free Syrian Army, greatly increasing the risk that VanDyke would be kidnapped or assassinated in Syria.[50]

Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution was released in September, 2013.[55] The film was well received by the press who described it as "a film festival darling" and it was screened at over 150 film festivals, winning over 50 awards including the Short Film Award at the One World Media Awards and the Academy Award qualifying First Place Non-Fiction Award at the USA Film Festival.[56][57][58] Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution was broadcast on television to millions of viewers, seen on ARD's program Panorama, on SBS in Australia, and on NRK in Norway.[59][60][61] Footage from the film was also shown as part of a 2013 episode of ABC's program Nightline.[62][62] VanDyke released Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution on YouTube without advertising.[52] The film is also available online through The Guardian and Journeyman Pictures.[63] Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution has also been shown at educational institutions and events around the world sponsored by organizations such as Amnesty International and The Frontline Club.[64][65][66]

Point and Shoot[edit]

VanDyke's second documentary film, Point and Shoot, premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in April, 2014 where it won the Best Documentary Award.[21][67] VanDyke had approached two-time Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker Marshall Curry to collaborate on a biographical film about VanDyke using footage he had shot during the motorcycle journey and while fighting in Libya. The film consists primarily of VanDyke's footage from 2007-2011, which is combined with some interviews and a short animation sequence to recreate VanDyke's experience in solitary confinement as a prisoner of war.[1][68][69]

Point and Shoot follows VanDyke's four year motorcycle journey, his friendship with Nouri Fonas and other Libyans, and his transformation into a revolutionary during the conflict in Libya.[70] The film explores VanDyke's background, motivations, and the formative experiences during his motorcycle journey that led to his transformation into a revolutionary during the conflict in Libya. The film has received positive reviews and high scores from critics.[71][72][73][74][75] In addition to winning the Best Documentary Award at Tribeca Film Festival, Point and Shoot won the Independent Film Festival of Boston Special Jury Prize for Documentary Feature, and VanDyke was awarded the Special Jury Award for Extraordinary Courage in Filmmaking by the Little Rock Film Festival for his work as producer and cinematographer on Point and Shoot.[76][77]

Filmography[edit]

Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution (2013)[78]

Point and Shoot (2014)[79]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Point and Shoot". 
  2. ^ "Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution". 
  3. ^ a b c d e Pickup, Oliver (30 August 2011). "U.S. film-maker released after six months in solitary in Gaddafi hellhole jail". The Daily Mail (London). 
  4. ^ Zeitchik, Steven (8 May 2014). "In 'Point and Shoot,' inside the mind of an unlikely revolutionary". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles). 
  5. ^ Ebiri, Bilge (25 April 2014). "Marshall Curry and Matthew Vandyke on Fighting in the Middle East and Directing Point and Shoot". 
  6. ^ a b c Brumfield, Sarah (7 November 2011). "American Who Joined Libyan Fighters Returns to US". Associated Press (Baltimore). 
  7. ^ a b c d Denise Koch (2011-11-10). "Baltimore Writer Matthew VanDyke Speaks Out About His Time In Libya". WJZ 13 Eyewitness News. 2:57 minutes in. CBS. WJZ-TV. http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2011/11/10/baltimore-writer-matthew-vandyke-speaks-out-about-his-time-in-libya/.
  8. ^ a b c Brumfield, Sarah (4 June 2011). "Md. Writer Among Journalists Missing in Libya". Associated Press (Baltimore). 
  9. ^ Schaap, Fritz (23 February 2013). "Syrien braucht dich - Sagte sich Matthew VanDyke und fuhr los". Das Magazin. 
  10. ^ Russo, Glenn (19 May 2011). "Alumnus Missing in Libya". The Hoya (Washington, DC). 
  11. ^ a b c d e Smith, Van (10 July 2013). "The Accidental Warrior". The City Paper (Baltimore). 
  12. ^ Engel, Evan (5 November 2012). "This Man Fights and Films the Last Gasps of the Arab Spring". 
  13. ^ a b Goudsouzian, Tanya (22 April 2014). "The white 'saviours' of the Arabs". 
  14. ^ Chantereau, Filippa (16 August 2012). "American freedom fighter Matthew VanDyke turns his eyes from Libya to Syria". 
  15. ^ VanDyke, Matthew (17 February 2012). "Why I Fought in the Libyan Civil War". 
  16. ^ a b Hofmann, Greta (19 September 2013). "The American Filmmaker Who Became a Freedom Fighter in Libya". 
  17. ^ a b c d Pelton, Robert (29 March 2013). "Matt VanDyke: Filmmaker/Fighter". Dangerous Magazine. 
  18. ^ Wallace, Marlon (5 November 2013). "Matthew VanDyke: Tinker, Teacher, Soldier, Almost Spy". 
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  24. ^ James Foley (2011-08-31). Former prisoner Matthew Van Dyke tells of being jailed by Gaddafi (Website video). Boston: GlobalPost. 
  25. ^ a b Bahrampour, Tara (7 November 2011). "Marylander proud he joined Libyan rebels' army". The Washington Post (Washington, DC). 
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  31. ^ a b Bahrampour, Tara (5 November 2011). "With Gaddafi dead, Matthew VanDyke, who joined Libyan rebels, finally returns to Md.". The Washington Post (Washington, DC). 
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  33. ^ Mary Beth Marsden (2011-11-07). "Maryland's News Now with Mary Beth Marsden". 14:44 minutes in. WBAL. 1090 AM WBAL. http://www.wbal.com/absolutenm/templates/marylandsnewsnow.aspx?articleid=82730&zoneid=100series.
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  35. ^ Congregalli, Matteo (26 November 2013). "Meet The American Freedom Fighter Who Is Keeping The Spirit Of The Arab Spring Alive". 
  36. ^ Bruce Leshan (2011-11-11). "Filmmaker: Matthew VanDyke Returns From Libya And Plans To Return To The Middle East". WUSA9 News. 2:18 minutes in. NBC. WUSA9. http://www.wusa9.com/news/article/174465/373/An-American-Rebel-Plans-His-Next-War.
  37. ^ "The abandonment of a nation". Straight talk and hard news. 2013-09-12. 7:14 minutes in. Sun News Network. http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/video/featured/news/868018287001/the-abandonment-of-a-nation/2666444018001.
  38. ^ Allison Hope Weiner (2014-02-07). "Libyan and Syrian Revolution with Matthew VanDyke". Media Mayhem. 46:03 minutes in. Lip.tv. http://thelip.tv/episode/libyan-and-syrian-revolution-with-matthew-vandyke/.
  39. ^ "International community impotent on Syrian violence". Straight talk and hard news. 2013-08-21. 5:42 minutes in. Sun News Network. http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/video/featured/news/868018287001/international-community-impotent-on-syrian-violence/2621088430001.
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  42. ^ Beaumont, Peter (13 October 2011). "Libya war reaches endgame with 100 loyalists left fighting". The Guardian (London). 
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  45. ^ Bruce Leshan (2011-11-11). "Matthew VanDyke Returns From Libya And Plans To Return To The Middle East". 9 News Now. 2:18 minutes in. CBS. WUSA. http://www.wusa9.com/news/article/174465/373/An-American-Rebel-Plans-His-Next-War.
  46. ^ Kilar, Steve (5 November 2011). "Maryland man jailed in Libya returns home". The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore). 
  47. ^ Goldfarb, Bruce (26 July 2012). "'Freedom Fighter' Matthew VanDyke to Film in Syria". The Arbutus Patch (Arbutus). 
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  67. ^ Michaud, Chris (24 April 2014). "'Zero Motivation,' 'Point and Shoot' win Tribeca Festival prizes". Reuters. 
  68. ^ Ebiri, Bilge (25 April 2014). "Marshall Curry and Matthew VanDyke on Fighting in the Middle East and Directing Point and Shoot". Vulture. 
  69. ^ Lee, Adrian (29 April 2014). "‘A crash course in manhood,’ caught on film". Macleans. 
  70. ^ Gaynor, Michael (18 June 2014). "AFI Docs Review: "Point and Shoot"". Washingtonian. 
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  78. ^ http://www.syrianrevolutionfilm.com
  79. ^ http://www.matthewvandyke.com/films/point-and-shoot/