An explosion rings out. Men run into a building carrying a stretcher with others. Once possibly a home, has become rubble. Many people are repeating and shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is the greatest or Praise God) as two children are carried out with alacrity. Within the first minute of the opening scene of “White Helmets”, the sound of jets flying overhead tears through the sky and a bomb explodes only feet away from the cameramen.
After five years of war, over 400,000 Syrians have been killed and millions have fled their homes. Those that remain rely on a group of volunteers dedicated to saving anyone in need. These first responders are known as the White Helmets. This story is a heartbreaking account of what life is like for residents still living in Aleppo City, Syria.
War and explosions can be visually stunning when produced by Hollywood, but “White Helmets” was an eye-opening experience. People die in this film. It is raw and completely candid. Watching it made me care less about my own problems, as none of them carry risk of my friends’ or family’s lives in the balance.
The first half is difficult to watch and reminiscent of the “Jason Bourne” series because many scenes were filmed free-hand or on shoulder-cameras. However, the interlaced frames of the interviews with members of this organization make it much more bearable. Definitely do not watch this full screen on your computer or on a flat screen TV (unless you take Dramamine before-hand).
The White Helmets are also known as the Syrian Civil Defense, an organization made up of 2,900 civilians working in 120 centers across the country. Since 2013, more than 130 White Helmets have been killed. But in the same period, over 58,000 lives have been saved.
Politics aren’t touched on at all in this documentary. Anything derivative of politics is only insinuated through footage of Russian jet fighters or helicopters that drop barrel and cluster bombs all over the city.
Not much is explained in terms of context behind the massive amount of conflict in this documentary, and it could leave a lot of uncultured or ignorant viewers with questions. Running at a total of 40 minutes, it’s not exactly a full-length feature film, but what it does really well is employ pathos. “White Helmets” leaves you questioning world politics, global conflict and the lack of humanity.
More than anything, Netflix’s timing in releasing this film couldn’t have been better amidst rising tensions between Western and the Middle Eastern nations. Hopefully, many people watch this and become more curious about these world events and conflict around the world. I’d highly recommend this documentary to anyone wanting to broaden their horizons.