“Where is humanity?” – Khaled Umar Halah, a White Helmet, in Last Men in Aleppo
Best Documentary Feature
A Quick Aside
I really enjoy documentaries as I have stated in an previous post. I highly encourage you to check all of the nominees out – one of the things that’s so great about them is that some will resonate with you and some may not…and both scenarios are totally fine! It’s all about subject matter. So don’t forget that this post is just my trivial two cents and go check them out!
My Two Cents
Welcome to the conflict in Syria and a continuation of the story of the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, which was formed in 2013. This story is from 2015 where the White Helmets face even more dire conditions (if you can imagine that) with regular bombings in Aleppo, Syria.
Before you jump into this documentary, I highly recommend you watch the documentary called White Helmets (which also happened to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature last year – and very deservedly so). It is tough subject matter to watch but it’s a must watch in my opinion.
Could you imagine spending most of your day looking up at the sky watching for jets dropping bombs? Could you imagine after the bombs drop, jumping into your ‘rescue’ vehicle and heading straight towards the home site? And could you imagine spending tireless hours moving rubble and digging bodies out, hoping that someone survived? I certainly cannot. But that’s what these men do. And they are committed to it, and many, potentially all, will die doing it.
This is seemingly a sequel to White Helmets, in fact some of the same guys appear in both films. What’s different about this one is that it’s more of a glimpse into the day-to-day lives, of course intertwined with their rescue efforts. It’s 1-2 years later, and you can just see the emotional toll that is being taken on these people. And every phone call the one guy, Khaled, has with his kids and family leaves you with the sinking feeling that there’s a very real chance that that call goes silent one one end or the other. They live in a war blasted community that there’s seemingly no realistic way out of. Where they cannot even take their kids to a park without watching the skies and listening to reports on the radio of incoming jets, and where a tiny moral victory is being able to keep fish alive in water fountain they fixed up. It’s awful and heartbreaking.
I wasn’t sure what to think about a ‘sequel’ to a previous winning documentary. White Helmets was so solid and so excellent that you have to ask, “can you really top that?” But then you are reminded that it’s a documentary and I’m pretty sure these guys aren’t writing and creating these types of films for Oscar nominations. It’s probably not even a fleeting thought. But what I ultimately liked about the idea of a ‘sequel’ on the subject, is that this crisis is still going on years later. War isn’t confined to a 90 minute documentary; it defines it’s own timeframe for which there are seemingly no boundaries. So to me, this is what a documentary feature is all about and it hits on all of my hot doc buttons and then some.
Heads up: Some parts are quite graphic (not much phases me, but I even found some of it tough to watch – but watch it; it is so necessary that you watch it) and you may need some tissues handy. It’s pretty heavy stuff.