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Netflix Documentary Directors: "The White Helmets Represent Hope"

3 October, 2016
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Nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, globally famous for their lifesaving work, the White Helmets in Aleppo are now the subjects of a Netflix documentary.

In making the film The White Helmets, the directors are attempting to fit a 5-year-long struggle into a 40-minute short documentary about this group of civilians from Syria from diverse backgrounds. The Syrian Civil Defence - known more popularly as the White Helmets - devote their lives to rescuing people from the fires and rubble caused by the airstrikes in Syria ever since the revolution in 2011 took a dark turn leading to this ongoing civil war. The documentary premiered globally on 16th of September.

"Every day our rescue workers confront the failure of the international community to address the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. Each volunteer has chosen a difficult path, with many sacrifices, in order to rescue people from the rubble," stated Raed AlSaleh, the head of Syrian Civil Defense in a PR email.  

They are very optimistic about the documentary; they believe it will allow their work to echo and for their voices to be heard. 

"We want the world to know that there are people responsible for these crimes. We Syrians have seen outpouring of emotion, like with the picture of little Omran, but we do not see any discussion of who is behind the killing," AlSaleh continued.

He says that the White Helmets carry on every day knowing that 141 of their colleagues have been killed for saving lives. "They are heroes. This film tells their stories."

BECAUSE connected with Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara, the two filmmakers behind this documentary.

What was your main focus in the documentary?
As filmmakers, we have two main hopes with this film; Syria is so hard for people around the world to engage with because it is so sad. The White Helmets represent hope. They are ordinary people, like you and I, who have decided to risk their own lives each day in order to save strangers. It is hard not to be inspired by what they do; they take no sides in the conflict and just focus on rescuing people after air strikes. To date they have saved over 60,000 people. We believe that the story of the White Helmets is one that resonates with people across the world.

Secondly, the narrative from Syria has been dominated by Daesh/terrorism and the refugee crisis in Europe. These are both clearly important issues however coverage of them has been at the expense of the millions of civilians living in non-regime controlled areas who are being bombed daily by President Assad's armed forces and his allies. The story of the White Helmets is one that is very much rooted in what is happening on the ground to civilians inside Syria.

Were there any obstacles in filming or producing this work?
This was a very difficult film to make. One of the most difficult things was seeing the toll the war had on the White Helmets themselves. Going into this project we thought we had an idea of what White Helmets went through but the violence they are subjected to each day - both physical and psychological - is truly shocking. Each day in Syria they don't know if they will come home to their families at the end of the day (over 140 White Helmets have been killed in the line of duty), and even when in Turkey when they are training, each day they are unsure if their relatives inside Syria will be alive when they phone home at night.

How did you manage to fit in a 5-year-old struggle in the time span of 40 minutes?
We wanted to concentrate on a universal human story that everyone could understand without in-depth knowledge of the conflict and the region. It's for this reason that the film does not dwell heavily on the constantly shifting politics of the conflict and instead simply follows the work of three ordinary men who have decided to do something extraordinary when so many others have either picked up a gun or fled.

Any future plans?
The White Helmets, through their bravery and selflessness, give us faith in humanity and they make us want to be better people in our own lives. Whenever we find people like that around the world we are drawn to share their stories.

Watch the official trailer of The White Helmets (2016) below.

Image: still from YouTube trailer

Tags MENA Because White Helmets Netflix White Helmets documentary Syria volunteering aid work Joanna Natasegara Orlando von Einsiedel