Armed with a master’s degree in Security Studies with a Middle East regional concentration from Georgetown University and a video camera and motorcycle, Baltimore native Matthew VanDyke set out in 2007 to put his academics to the test.
Little did the then-timid 27-year-old with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder know he would be freewheeling through Northern Africa and the Middle East, eventually joining his Libyan hippie friend in the fight against then-dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
“Audiences are surprised that an American can get around and be treated well and make friends and not be killed or harassed, and that I was serving openly in the Libyan revolution, openly as an American. I was treated with respect,” said VanDyke, who teamed up with two-time Academy Award nominated director Marshall Curry to turn his story into the Tribeca Film Festival documentary “Point and Shoot.” “It’s not that people hate America, if they did they wouldn’t have welcomed an American into their military unit.”
Some audience members are simply impressed that VanDyke survived his time in the Middle East. The self-proclaimed freedom fighter fought and filmed in the Libyan civil war until he was captured by Qaddafi forces in March 2011 and subsequently held for six months in solitary confinement.
“My experience in Libya really transformed me as a person and gave me an ideology and cause I strongly believe in,” VanDyke told FOX411, adding that at times the American perceptions of the Arab world are distorted. “There are a lot of misconceptions. The main person I was serving with was a hippie, and all over the streets there are other motorcycle enthusiasts driving around doing wheelies.”
“Point and Shoot” also highlights an array of similarities between American troops and the Libyan soldiers. Not only do we see footage of U.S. soldiers in Iraq trying to tailor their images for VanDyke’s cameras, but audiences are also exposed to the way Libyan soldiers are influenced by movies they've seen and the presence of a camera.
“Even though they were engaged in the most dangerous, high-minded acts of self-sacrifice, they wanted to have footage of themselves looking like Hollywood heroes. And at the end of the war, there were rebels who filmed gruesome ‘selfies’ as they killed Qaddafi,” Curry explained. “My goal for this film is to encourage conversation and reflection.”
Indeed VanDyke’s somewhat reckless, perhaps revolutionary, journey does raise a multitude of questions: What drives us to do the things that we do? What do we need to consider before diving into international conflict? Does filming ourselves and broadcasting our faces across social media change who we are? What are our moral obligations for those afflicted in foreign countries?
“It looked like Libyans would be on their own and I wanted to go and help them. But the film incorporates a lot of things beyond that,” VanDyke added. “I wanted to get my story out, to inspire people to get up off their sofa and pursue their dreams or support a cause or something they believe in rather than just giving a thumbs up to their television screen from the comfort of their sofa.”
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Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay