A viral video showing a Syrian boy rescuing a girl under gunfire, watched online by millions of viewers, was faked by a Norwegian film crew, according to its director.
Posted on YouTube on Monday, the "Syrian hero boy" video was shot on location in Malta last summer with professional actors, and directed by 34-year-old Norwegian Lars Klevberg, who hoped to provoke a debate on children in war zones.
"The motivation behind the production and the Internet release of the film was to spur debate, urge action on behalf of innocent children all over the world who are affected by war," Klevberg said in a press release posted on Twitter late Friday.
"We are pleased that the film spread widely and that the debate has indeed focused on the children's lives during war."
In the film, a young boy braves sniper fire and appears to be shot while rescuing a girl hiding behind a burned car in what seems to be war-torn Syria.
The video, which had been seen more than six million times by Saturday amid an online debate about its authenticity, received funding from the Norwegian Film Institute (NFI).
According to the BBC, the filmmakers never hid their intention of uploading the video without specifying whether it was real or fiction while applying for funding.
The video went viral after the production team uploaded it on YouTube and sent it out on Twitter to generate a debate.
Klevberg explained that the footage "was supposed to send small clues that it was not real", but it was quickly featured by different media outlets.
The revelation that everything was staged has sparked criticism regarding the ethical implications of deliberately posting a fake video featuring children in war zones.
- 'Ethical discussions' -
"Their intention was never to deceive people at all, and neither was mine, because we had lots of ethical discussions and talks about the project," NFI film commissioner for short film Ase Meyer told AFP.
"The main motivation was to focus on children and make a fictional story using the narrative language from authentic film, but of course I see this has really gone much bigger than they thought."
The Syrian conflict started almost four years ago, born out of the upheaval of the Arab Spring protests.
More than 195,000 people have been killed in the war and more than half the population of the country has been forced to flee their homes.
The Syrian civil war is of great concern to Norway, which has one of the highest rates per capita of nationals who have travelled to fight in it.
According to the intelligence services, some 50 individuals with links to the Nordic country have fought or are fighting in Syria, about half of whom have returned.