We Win or We Die (2012) – By Misty Layne

Matthew Millan spent 2011 in Libya as a documentary filmmaker and the result is the touching and compelling documentary, We Win or We Die.

February, 2011.  The people of eastern Libya 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.  For 30 years, the Katiba has stood as a symbol of terror in the center of Benghazi.  Holding hundreds of soldiers and heavy artillery, it stands ready to rain death down upon the protesters.  And on February 18th, the heavy guns fired. Soon the protests turned into full-scale rebellion, and the people of Benghazi knew that the Rubicon had been crossed.  The same equation was in all of their minds.  If they moved forward toward the fortress, they would die.  And if they retreated, they would die as well. 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…

The story of Mahdi Zew, an ordinary every day man who gave his life to help bring down the Gaddafi regime, We Win or We Die is an unusual documentary that is more narrative than anything else. Between the shots of protestors are interviews with Zew’s daughters and friends and eyewitnesses to the events that took place and between all of that are artistic renderings of Zew’s story on the day in question. Devastated by the killings in his home country and hoping for something better, Zew took matters into his own hands and did what others could not – he enabled the protestors to get into the Katiba by crashing his car that was full of gallons of gasoline and gelatin (an explosive) into an anti-aircraft gun outside the gate and cracking it wide open. No one knew he was going to do this and while he is hailed as a hero, the flipside is his daughters’ heartbreak of the loss of their father.

I know of the protests of course but I don’t know a lot and this film is an insider’s look at the oppression and brutality the people of Libya were living on a day to day basis. The shots of protestors and funeral processions interrupted by gunfire hit home and the story of one man who walked among the hail of bullets unharmed, simply repeating “I’m with you God” made me tear up more than once. While there are no graphic shots of the wounded or dead here, this is definitely not for the faint of heart as it packs a devastating wallop.

We Win or We Die is an emotional and moving film that should be watched if not for anything more than to broaden one’s horizons and open ourselves up to what’s happening outside our own little worlds. Kudos to Mr. Millan for his work here. If you’d like to learn more about the film, please visit the official site here.