REVIEW: The White Helmets [2016]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½


Rating: NR | Runtime: 41 minutes | Release Date: September 16th, 2016 (UK)
Studio: Netflix
Director(s): Orlando von Einsiedel

“To save a life is to save all of humanity”

Every year seems to bring a new on-the-ground document of nightmarish tragedy thanks to Netflix’s fearless international programming. 2013 brought the fantastic The Square about Egyptians standing ground in their revolution against tyrants. 2015 brought the equally eye-opening Winter on Fire to ensure everyone acknowledged the human cost of what was and is happening in Ukraine. And now 2016 brings Orlando von Einsiedel‘s short The White Helmets, a look at the heroes risking everything to preserve life in a nation ravaged by death. Because as ISIS declares Syria their base of operations, nations like Russia take it upon themselves to stage bombings without rhyme, reason, or care for innocent lives. Thankfully there are still courageous first-responders to ensure the destruction of human life won’t equal that of property.

The hometown of the subjects being Aleppo City renders it required viewing for Americans caught in President Trump’s fearmongering. As they scream for a wall on the Mexican border and cry about our extreme vetting being insufficient for seven countries that have yet to deliver a terrorist in order to justify said fear, compassionate Muslims in Syria do what they can to save people rather than damn them to a fate out of their control. The Syrian Civil Defense team (known as the White Helmets) is around 2,900 strong—men with wives and children who look past selfish desires to do what it takes to combat this carnage. They run towards ground zero on faith and remain despite continued bombings until every body (dead or alive) is found.

von Einsiedel pulls no punches with the film’s first half putting us directly into the fray with bombs exploding, victims screaming, and bodies seen motionless in the rubble. He lets Khalid Farah, Mohammed Farah, Abu Omar, and more tell stories of horror and miracle, each speaking to the camera as footage of the incidents described show how harrowing it truly was. But the second half may be even harder to watch because we leave for Turkey as the men join a month-long rescue-training course. As they learn what’s necessary to return home and save lives, they are helpless to read of each day’s raids and casualties—often consisting of family members and friends—online. They pray for their own, but also know that every Syrian is now family.

More than that, this ordeal galvanizes them to realize how every human being no matter religion or race is family. No one deserves to endure this terror and no one should feel helpless in his/her plight. Just because the media shoves ISIS and zealotry down our throats to stoke the fires of “America First” cowardice doesn’t mean every Syrian, Arab, or Muslim fits under that umbrella. One of the men showcased here fought the rebellion against ISIS before he saw how his “allies” were targeting civilians (and therefore he was too). So he joined the White Helmets instead, deciding that saving a life was better than taking one. Hopefully Trump supporters can one day learn from this. A ban literally ensures death for people devoted to preserving life.

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