The Oscar Winning Documentary Short Subject The White Helmets is an extraordinary experience in an unfathomable situation. Orlando von Einsiedel’s approach to the devastation of the Syrian crisis takes the ideologies out of the war torn disaster and narrates it from the humanity that exists within it.
The story of The White Helmets has been told several times, prior to this film 60 Minutes (US version) ran an article on them and there is a film in development. A corps of civilians in Aleppo, from all various trades and professions, don white helmets and search through heavily shelled buildings and locations in search of survivors and bodies. No, this isn’t the plot of some wannabe cinematic outing, this is real life. One that is both utterly horrifying and gobsmackingly beautiful.
Centering on four active White Helmet officers Khalid Farah, Mohammed Farah, Abu Omar, and Raed Saleh, we learn of the experience living in this devastated city. Through anecdotal evidence we hear how intimately the sustained bombing has become all too common place to their children, how they can identify the types of bombs being dropped on them by the carnage they cause and how, with heartbreaking matter-of-factness, lives are lost so consistently.
Should you watch this film (and I implore you to do so), the name Mahmoud will be etched into your mind. In one of the film’s more profoundly moving moments we get an unprecedented view of the White Helmets at work and the introduction to the young Mahmoud. It, as a vignette that explains the utter pointlessness of war, is an astounding piece of document.
Einsiedel layers the more immediate realities with the training and rigour these men go through. Some are tailors, others fabricators, family men, all united to save their people. These men, too, cannot escape the ravages of this ugly conflict as bombs descend upon Wedding halls, hospitals and, indeed, their family members. As dire as the situation is, as dark as this world descends, hope still survives and these men cling to it.
As a final coda of this thrift 40 minutes rolls on by, it is signed off by one of the most potent and strongest motivations for this crew. Although the interviewee calls it a motto of The White Helmets, (it is also a paraphrased verse from the Quran) which reads:
To save one life is to save all of humanity
To this end, The White Helmets have more than done that. May this be the starting point for us all to delve deeper and read more about the Syrian conflict, The White Helmets and to be reminded that humanity is capable of terrible things but it can also produce awe-inspiring beautiful ones, too.
THE WHITE HELMETS is STREAMING NOW on NETFLIX