Monday, April 03, 2017
The White Helmets (Tuesday 4 April, The Better World Fringe at Belfast Film Festival)
Since 2013, over 3,000 brave and independent volunteers working in 120 centres across Syria have so far rescued 80,000 people. Over 150 White Helmets have lost their lives in the civil war. Many more have been injured.
When they hear jet aircraft approaching, these are the kind of guys who rush outside into the street to look up and see where the bombs are dropping rather than heading into a basement bunker. Clouds of dust linger above collapsed buildings. There are shrieks of panic in the streets everywhere they go. Listening equipment helps locate the living under the mounds of heavy concrete.
The White Helmets documentary – which won the Oscar for Best Documentary (Short Subject) in February 2017 – tells the story of the civil defence team in the city of Aleppo.
These are not retired soldiers or career fire fighters. Over the course of 40 minutes we meet a former builder, a former blacksmith and a former tailor who now volunteer full time in their rescue roles.
As well as encountering death on a daily basis as they race across the city in their truck to each new devastating scene, we watch the rescuers face up to the trauma of their own family and loved ones being caught up in attacks. While away in Turkey receiving vital training courses on techniques and equipment, several rescuers face anxious waits as the status of missing family members is tracked down.
Khaled Omar Harrah died in an airstrike in August 2016, leaving behind his wife and two daughters.
Director Orlando Van Einsiedel captures the intense esprit de corps shown by the team as they perform their sacred, humanitarian duty. “To save a life is to save all of humanity.” Mixing together interviews with bodycam footage this short documentary explores the motivation of a brave team of rescue workers in Aleppo. It’s sobering viewing. Yet it’s full of hope amongst the suffering.
The White Helmets will be screened as part of the Belfast Film Festival in The MAC at 7pm on Tuesday 4 April as part of The Better World Film Fringe organised by CADA (the Coalition of Aid and Development Agencies in Northern Ireland).
The film will be followed by a panel discussion chaired by Peter Anderson (NI’s head of Concern Worldwide) and featuring contributions from Noelle Fitzpatrick (Trócaire's Syria humanitarian officer), Anna Nolan (director of The Syria Campaign) https://thesyriacampaign.org/ and Declan Lawn (writer, broadcaster and BBC TV documentary maker).