Netflix won its first Academy Award for a documentary with The White Helmets, a 41-minute documentary that stays in your mind long after that runtime. It is a powerful fly on the wall documentary following Syria’s White Helmets – a small group of people who are the first responders rescuing people in the wartorn area. It showcases the worst and the best of humanity in a poignant piece.

The disasters faced

Daily airstrikes that hit civilian targets in Syria.

The backdrop in Syria as people walk through the city is sobering.

The story

The White Helmets, released in 2016, follows Mohammed, Khalid, Abu, Raed and a few other White Helmets. They live in Syria and are waiting for the next airstrike to take place. They don’t need to wait long as airstrikes take place every day and so they run into danger to save people trapped in the debris and rubble. The documentary follows them across several days as airstrikes turn into barrel bombs. The team then cross the border to Turkey to learn some survival first responder skills. As everyone involved are volunteers choosing to support their community, they lack the tools and know-how to always get the job done. However, whilst in Turkey, an airstrike hits their neighbourhood. Not knowing which family members have survived nor being able to attempt to rescue them leaves the entire team devastated.

It’s 41 minutes in a warzone and it is as intense and eye-opening as you’d ever want it to be.

Testing out new equipment and training in Turkey gives The White Helmets better prepared for all situations.

Why is it worth watching?

Precisely as above, you are walking in their shoes. The camera team is being blown about along with the team. A lot of head cam work makes it feel like you are in the moment of rescue and an escape at the same time. Interspersed are interviews about why these people join and stay with The White Helmets. There is a heartwarming story on the team finding a baby in rubble that they champion as a reason to live. There are some powerful messages too about saving rather than killing too. The closing caption explains that at the time of recording 130 White Helmets have been killed but they have saved over 58,000 people. Whilst I was infuriated at the fact the war is taking place, I did find the mentality of everyone interviewed and rescuing people utterly fascinating and heartwarming in an odd way. They’ll rescue anyone they can and are everyday heroes.

Favourite quote

Better to rescue a soul than to take one.

Mohammed explaining why he joined the white helmets

Three memorable moments

  • The opening section of the film. It takes you from airstrike to rescue in a few moments. It is visceral and impactful without sensationalising anything with music or effects.
  • The moment in Turkey when one man is trying to find out if his brother has died. There is a revealing side conversation about not bottling up emotions and getting it out of your system. A lot could be learnt from that mentality.

Conclusion

This documentary left a large impression on me long after watching it. I don’t know what the team are doing now but seeing them doing so much good work in such adversity is such a humbling experience. I recommend watching this to remind yourself that there is some good in the world and there are things we can all do to help support them.

Rating: 4 /5 – Excellent

If you enjoyed watching The White Helmets, you may also like

  • When A City Falls – a documentary on how the people of Christchurch rallied together in the face of multiple earthquakes.
  • Erebus: Operation Overdue – a docudrama about the 1979 Erebus air crash and the various controversies that followed.
  • Fire in Paradise – documentary on a forest fire destroying the town of Paradise, mixed with real footage of survivors.
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I Love Disaster Movies is part of the Higher Plain Network. If you like what I do, and would like to help me make better and more content then please consider supporting me via Patreon for as little as $1 or £1. Thank you.

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