The White Helmets

Mar 01 2018

The White Helmets

Published by

For my Blog Post, I decided to watch the movie The White Helmets by British film director Orlando von Einsiedel. The short documentary follows around the daily operations of a group of volunteer rescue workers known as the Syrian Civil Defense, or The White Helmets. These men are the first responders to be on the scene when bombings or mortars occur. These people left their everyday jobs like being a blacksmith or tailor to take on a volunteer job to run into areas that could be bombed to save civilians. The documentary takes place in Aleppo, a major city in Syria. In these scenes, they are mostly rescuing people. They also show scenes in Turkey where the volunteers go through a month-long training. Also, until fairly recently the White Helmets was made up of all men, until two women’s teams were made in October 2014. 140 women were trained in rescue work, medical care, and light search. They can also respond to barrel bombs and missile strikes and they also dig for survivors in rubble with tools and their bare hands. One controversial issue is that people in Syria’s most conservative communities didn’t believe that the male volunteers should rescue women and girls since they added these two teams now thousands of women and girls can be saved instead of being left to suffer. Although this new addition of women into the organization is great, neither of the women’s groups are shown in this film.

A White Helmet volunteer saving a child

The Director of the film Orland von Einsiedel was born in August of 1980. He usually directs documentaries that look at global social issues. He has filmed around the world including America, Asia, Africa, and the Arctic. He was nominated for two Academy Awards for Virunga (2014) and The White Helmets (2016). He was nominated for Best Documentary Feature and Best Documentary (Short Subject), he ended up winning the latter.

Orland von Einsiedel

The Syrian Civil Defense or the White Helmets was formed in 2014 as a nonprofit organization. The head of the group is Raed Saleh, who leads nearly 3,000 volunteers. The budget for this group is around $70 million and the volunteers are paid a monthly stipend. They were formed to do urban search and rescue in response to medical evacuation, bombings, evacuations of civilians from dangerous areas and essential service delivery, against the Russians. Since its starting in 2014, around 159 White Helmets have been killed in the line of duty.

A highlight in the film is a story told by one of the Syrian volunteer rescue workers named Khaled Farah.  He talks about one of his most memorable rescues in the Ansari neighborhood that had been targeted by barrel bombs. After they had arrived on the scene, they were able to rescue two families, in one was a mother and a son. She was hysterically crying because she was afraid for her baby’s life. After a long 12-hour day of digging, they finally heard baby cries. They found him under a lot of rubble in a very hard spot to reach, they were very careful when trying to rescue him because he was only two weeks old at the time. Later in the film, they show the baby grown up and is now two years old, they call him the miracle baby. This kind of story motivates all of the workers to keep going into one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

Miracle Baby at 2 years old

I think that the work that these men and women are doing is amazing and takes a lot of courage to do. I applaud them for taking on this dangerous job, and since they are on a stipend I am assuming that they aren’t paid a lot either. Without the formation of this group, thousands of men, women, and children would have died. I would highly recommend watching this documentary. It is a Netflix Original Documentary and is very easily accessible to watch if you have an account. The documentary is also fairly short with only being 40 minutes long. The movie is mainly in Arabic with subtitles at the bottom. The motto of the organization is, “To save a life is to save all of humanity”. I feel that this motto is a very accurate representation of the group as a whole. Constantly throughout the film the men talk about how they think of the civilians they are saving as “family” and that if one of the volunteers loses a child that it is not very different from them losing a child versus a civilian losing a child.

Since the Netflix version of this story was released in September 2016, another version of the story has been produced. In 2017 another film about these brave men and women’s story was released titled Last Men in Aleppo. This film was directed by Syrian director Feras Fayyad in a collaboration with a Danish film-maker Steve Johannessen and the Aleppo Media centre. It was the Winner of the Grand Jury Documentary prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.