The White Helmets
Dir: Orlando Von Einsiedel
This short documentary takes us right into Syria with a well-chosen angle on the ongoing conflict, one that doesn’t specifically take any sides but is united with rescue workers against the civilian casualties.
Volunteers known as ‘the White Helmets’ work in war-torn Syria to help civilians in the aftermath of bombings, pulling them from the rubble of destroyed buildings, we follow a few of them in the war zone and as they receive training.
Syrian refugees are regularly mentioned in the news, yet all too often we are getting viewpoints that are focused more on their destinations than the war zone and conditions they are fleeing. This film gets right into Syria, in the middle of the danger zone, with brave volunteers, some of whom have abandoned fighting in favour of humanitarian work, shown bravely rushing towards the danger instead of away from it.
With a mix of new footage following the rescue workers, some amateur footage of past work and a few pieces to camera from the volunteers themselves, this adeptly shows what they are facing daily while also helping them express why they are motivated to do such dangerous work.
While watching the film I wasn’t so sure about the parts where the men are shown going to Turkey for some training, I felt like the key focus of the film should be on the destruction in Syria, yet I quickly realised that’s the point those scenes make. They are in Turkey away from their families, feeling bad that they have an escape from the fighting, yet the training is vital for them to return and be effective in helping people. While there they face personal tragedies too, there’s almost never a moment when they haven’t got the TV on watching the news, or are intently checking their phones for updates. You see that they really want to be helping their colleagues pull people out from underneath rubble, it’s lifesaving work that’s been incredibly effective.
Immersing viewers at times right in the midst of the conflict, this doesn’t take sides or point fingers, it just shows what can universally be agreed is the worst part of any war, the civilian casualties. I think it’s a timely look at the situation in Syria that’s having an impact around the world, bringing the focus back where it should always have been, at the cause of the problem and why there are so many people fleeing the region.
‘The White Helmets’ is available now to watch on Netflix and is nominated for the ‘Documentary Short’ Academy Award, with moments of distress and injury it’s a difficult 40 minutes but with some uplifting rescues and emotional stories that make it rewarding.