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‘The White Helmets’: How the Stars Of Netflix’s Doc Are Making A Difference in Syria’s Civil War

The director and producer of the new documentary explain how they came to discover the real heroes of Syria's civil war.

White Helmets

“The White Helmets”

Netflix

The following editorial was co-authored by the Oscar-nominated team behind “Virguna,” the director Orlando von Einsiedel and producer Joanna Natasegara, whose short documentaryThe White Helmets” launches on Netflix globally today.

As the U.S, and Russia agree upon another tentative ceasefire in Syria, civilians on the ground are not holding their breath that the fighting will end. Syrian civilians have been let down far too many times. Instead, the Syrian people are continuing to do as they have done for the past few years, ­­taking humanitarian matters into their own hands to minimize loss of life.

The White Helmets, a group of nearly 3,000 civilian volunteer rescue workers, exemplify this spirit. These are the men and women who run into smoldering rubble, the aftermath of airstrikes, dig out the dead and injured. They come from all walks of life and have each pledged to save anyone in need, no matter their creed, religion or political beliefs.

We spent over five weeks on the Syrian border with 30 White Helmets training to save more people, capturing their day to day lives, experiencing war through their eyes. It was an experience that changed us; nothing could prepare us for the scale of the destruction and the daily trauma they were subjected to. We would question ourselves: How could they maintain any hope? Would we be as strong as them if put in their shoes?

Omran Daqneesh, the shell­-shocked and dust-covered child whose photograph made global headlines just two weeks ago, was saved by the White Helmets. He is just one of the more than 60,000 people they have on record as rescuing. Too many of them are women and children.

For the past three years, the White Helmets have quietly carried out their vital work. Whenever a news report has detailed yet another atrocity on a hospital or school that has been targeted by the Assad regime, or its ally Russia, the people in the background carrying victims from the rubble have invariably been White Helmets. Rarely have they been the subjects of the reports themselves. However, it seems that the world is finally beginning to recognize their extraordinary efforts with a nomination for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize and the endorsement of a range of high profile champions from Thandie Newton and George Clooney to Michelle Yeoh and Justin Timberlake.

We were stunned when we first saw footage of them in action: a grainy YouTube video as they rescued a newborn baby from under three stories of a collapsed building. Much of our work over the past few years has focused on telling the inspiring stories of people who have been willing to risk their own lives for something bigger than themselves. We have wanted to share these tales of bravery not only because they reaffirm our faith in the good of humanity in a world shaded by so much darkness, but also because they inspire us to work harder for what we believe in.

The White Helmets we filmed were a group of humble and highly committed individuals, undoubtedly damaged by years of witnessing the most horrific sights imaginable on a daily basis, somehow maintaining an unshakeable determination to continue their work. In the West, far too often we are subjected to negative stereotypes of the Muslim males. In stark contrast, these men were among the gentlest and kindest we had ever met. They maintain an almost unbelievable sense of humor in spite of everything ­­— tying our dozing cinematographer’s leg to water coolers or breaking into karaoke on our minibuses’ PA system. Their compassion seemed to be their overwhelming trait.

But the hardships these people endure every day are hard to imagine. Much of the powerful footage in the film comes from the cameras of the White Helmets themselves. Some footage looks like it was shot on the set of a Paul Greengrass movie: ­­jets tearing through the sky dropping indiscriminate bombs, while people cower in the streets and White Helmets run towards the explosions. The difference is that the footage is viscerally real, so much so that we could only show a tiny percentage of the horror these people witness, without making the whole film completely unwatchable.

It is this ever-present danger that makes being a White Helmet what The Washington Post has called “the most dangerous job in the world.” More than 140 White Helmets have been killed in the line of duty, leaving behind wives and families. Tragically, even during the production of our film, the White Helmet members we were following lost colleagues, friends and family with unbearable frequency.

Saying goodbye to the White Helmets at the end of filming was one of the more emotional moments of our careers, but their unified dedication to getting back to work was both moving and edifying. They believe each life matters and they’ll continue to work as long as there is need.

As the world holds out hope for peace in Syria, the White Helmets will continue to do their work of saving their friends, families and neighbors ­wholly embodying their motto: “To save a life is to save all of humanity.” Certainly for those of us fortunate to live in comfort and safety, we feel that their optimism and selflessness might just be the thing that saves us all from despair.

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Comments

jg

PROPAGANDA. FUNDED BY WESTERN GOVERNMENTS TO DELIVER WAR PROPAGANDA TO IGNORANT POPULATIONS.

    syrian

    syrian

    syrian

    my friend i wanna tell you that i agree with you in general but i disagree in one point that we are ignorant … see … i escaped the war from syria and i live now in germany for 2 years now … i speak arabic naturlly as a Mother tongue , i speak english as a BA in englich literature and now german ( ich kann deutsch auch ) … so … my friend you can say we are not IGNORANT … we are helpless !!!

      Lulu

      we do are ignorants lol!!! We are fed with CNN and FOX NEWS! OPEN YOU EYES THIS IS SPONSORISED BY NETFLIUX MWAGHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAH

      PACK OF SHEEPS, WE ARE -YODA-

my2cents

These are NOT aid workers….They are US trained foreign mercenaries destroying Syria and its people. This is cleverly disguised propaganda in what is not a civil war but a war by the US in order to destroy Syria. Shame on Netflix

    Daniel

    Actually the “white Helmets” was started by an exiled Syrian oil billionaire who is pushing for Regime change that also has a PR firm. That is getting funding from western governments that also want regime change. I used to think these people where awesome but they are not for the Syrian People but only for the rebels and their overseas backers. In fact they have said that is they treated a Syrian from the other side of Allepo they would throw their bodies in the rubbish tip. Footage has also showed that they are together with the jihadists, as they stand by as the Jihadist execute people and there they are ready to take them away possibly to the tip at the jihadists behest.

Lyn Smith

“How you came to discover the real heroes” .. what? What? 90 million dollars worth of funding from NATO and E countries plus a very click branding campaign.. who could miss these “helmets”? Point is, why are you all goalong with a disgusting invasion of the nation state of Syria? WH are only ever found in Al Nusra and Isis held areas, not “all over Syria” they are never known to locals, nobody knows who they are because they are NOT SYRIAN and are mercenaries who will work for the highest bidder. How to invade a country: pretend to be a peace keeping force; that old chestnut. Disgusting. The footage does not stand up to scrutiny either so shame on you all for being involved in propaganda more dodgy than the notorious “sexed up WMD dossier” of Bush and Blair. Shame on Netflix, shame on all of you.

    Lulu

    Agreed 200%

Lyn Smith

“How you came to discover the real heroes” .. what? What? 90 million dollars worth of funding from NATO and EU countries plus a very slick branding campaign.. who could miss these “helmets”? Point is, why are you all go along with a disgusting invasion of the nation state of Syria? WH are only ever found in Al Nusra and Isis held areas, not “all over Syria” they are never known to locals, nobody knows who they are because they are NOT SYRIAN and are mercenaries who will work for the highest bidder. How to invade a country without becoming “the bad guys” = pretend to be a peace keeping force; that old chestnut. Disgusting. The footage does not stand up to scrutiny either so shame on you all for being involved in propaganda more dodgy than the notorious “sexed up WMD dossier” of Bush and Blair. Shame on Netflix, shame on all of you.

Dawn

The “White Helmets” are a creation of PR company Purpose, Inc. and funded by the U.S. government to gode the American public into sending ground troops into Syria.

Josh

What the fuck is wrong with you people. Did you even watch the film? Innocent civilians are being bombed and the white helmets are doing all they can with limited resources to save as many people as they can. PR stunt or not they are saving lives while risking there own. Which is more then you keyboard warriors

    Lulu

    lol
    You poor naive and too sensitive idot that swallow the big thinking theory….
    Keep watching CNN and FOX news, you’ll have a reall sight on the world LOL…. open your eyes buddy… This is bullshit…

      Sumayyah

      No, you fucking asshole. People are risking their lives to save INNOCENT people. Those civilans live in fear of there life. WOMEN, CHILDREN. Did you even watch the docuementory? I like to see your fucking self go and do something they do EVERY SINGLE DAY. They save 60,000 people. SIXTY THOUSAND. And all you do is fucking stare at that computer screen and type. Thats all you are good for. They keep their head up even in the darkest of moments. They have lost everything. Everything they ever thought they once would have forever, GONE. You keep doing what yor doing. I pray to god you realize what they are doing is the best any person could do.

Al Breeck

The malicious smearing of the White Helmets is just a cynical ploy to distract from the horrific WAR CRIMES committed by Assad and Putin. Carpet Bombing Hospitals.
FIREBOMBING that U.N. Aid Convoy.
Thermite Bombs – look like fireworks only deadly burning through any material.
Cluster Bombs – supposedly banned weapons.
Fuel-Air-Explosive weapons used on packed markets.
Medieval Sieges cutting off Water, Food, Medicine.
A deadly horror nightmare if “detained” by Assad if wonder why so few walked out during the Ceasefire that’s over.
Without these HEROES the suffering would be unimaginable, the wounded left to fend for themselves in the chaos of aerial bombings, or just in the rubble dying.

Daniel

The real heroes are the real Syrian Civil defense that have been in existence for at least 80 years, they don’t only save one side of the conflict and they don’t need a camera to save people. The white helmets is a RP propaganda for regime change started by a Syrian oil billionaire living in London that also has a PR firm or is connected to one. So they are not about anything good. I was fooled at first sight, but they are what outside forces hope to use for their “legitemate government” People have to really question who really fired the first shots in Syria? To many outside interests are pushing for regime change to naively believe that it was Assad’s thugs shooting at civilians. What a tragedy Syria has become, there is a reason Assad still has the support of his people. Now that Turkey is leaning towards Russia due to the failed coup, this has been the straw that broke the camels back, as Turkey was the rebels supporter and arms supplier. Now that Turkey is saying they do not want to overthrow Assad and pulled direct support from militants this is the real reason the war is coming to a end and not the Trump election victory as the mainstream media want people to think.

Daniel

Check out this report from the Real news Network.

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