Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The White Helmets

(UK, 2016)

I have not seen any of the other four nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject for this year, but I would be amazed if any of them were better than this, the winner. Producer Joanna Natasegara and director Orlando von Einsiedel went to Syria, to Aleppo, to the very heart of darkness, to film the work of the Syria Civil Defence, a group of about 3000 volunteers known for wearing white helmets when they show up after a bombing by Russian or Syrian war criminals. The Russian monsters (and thanks a lot, mass murderer Putin) come in high above with jet bombers. The Syrian monsters (ditto, you piece of shit Assad) arrive in helicopters and roll out things called barrel bombs. These can weigh about a ton. They can be made from old oil drums, which are then packed with explosive, shrapnel, and sometimes chemical weapons. And yes, both the Russians and Syrians target hospitals with their bombs. Tactically, it’s a great idea. It forces the populace to flee the city. Morally, it is despicable.

The White Helmets are the ones who run toward the column of smoke. Unarmed, all volunteer, they are pledged to treat all civilians equally as they dig the living, the maimed, and the dead from the rubble. My hat is off to them. So far in the war, 130 of them have been killed. When they go to work in the morning they have no idea if they will have a home or a family to return to at night. Many have lost everything and everyone. But they have saved 58,000 lives.

The movie shows interviews with some of the men, and their training across the border in Turkey. And then the filmmakers showed incredible courage following these men into the carnage. Many times we can actually feel the force of an explosion, and then plunge into dust and smoke and fire. And wouldn’t you know it, one of these people could not be in the Dolby Theater a few nights ago to accept the Oscar. Why? The cinematographer, Khaled Khateeb, was barred from boarding a flight from Turkey, after US officials reported finding “derogatory information” about him. You know, I feel 99% sure that whatever that information was, it was bullshit. All from our bullshit president, Donnie Boo Boo.