Sift through the layers of Syria’s war of misinformation while bearing witness to the work of the White Helmets.
“What is there left to say about the White Helmets?” asked the Guardian’s review of Last Men In Aleppo after its Sundance world premiere. Although the review was very positive, the writer was keen to point out the shorter 40-minute run-time of Netflix’s Oscar-winner The White Helmets, another documentary about Syria’s first responders, the Syrian Civil Defense – the volunteer teams who got survivors and bodies out of bombed buildings in besieged East Aleppo. Are we jaded Western viewers just all White-Helmetted out?
Yes, we’ve all seen the footage; from YouTube clips circulated on Facebook, to broadcast news reports. The digging through the rubble, the rescued children, dead babies, screaming parents. The dust, on everyone, all skin ghoulish grey whether living or dead. For a while in 2016, the world had its eye on Aleppo; now things have moved on. This documentary, filmed until 2015, when filmmaker Feras Fayad was forced to flee Syria under threat for his life, is now a historical tract from a very changed city.
Here’s why you should watch it, then, why you should take in all one-hour-forty-four of its runtime, rather than the condensed hour-long edit, or just making do with Netflix’s shorter piece. This film is as much about what happens in the spaces in between the cycle of bombings and rubble-scrabbling. It’s about the banality of life in a warzone, the way those extreme images we in the West can dip into for a couple of minutes become everyday experience when you’re living them.