By Dave B.
The White Helmets (Netflix) is a foreign-language documentary that follows the Aleppo branch of the White Helmets, a civil defense organization that has helped save victims of Syria’s civil war. They were the initial first responders on the scene of many air strikes and bombings conducted by Syria, Russia, and ISIS. The 40 minute documentary takes a look at some of the triumphs and tragedies of these modern-day heroes.
The stories of heroism presented in The White Helmets are often deeply moving. The courage and civic-mindedness of these men can’t be denied. Due to their work, they suffer a high death toll, but the organization as a whole has saved thousands of people and the movie makes a point of having the White Helmets tell viewers, in their own words, why they do what they do, how it makes them feel (both good and bad), and their hopes for the future. The White Helmets does an excellent job of humanizing people who are appreciated for what they do, but run the risk of being lionized or demonized by their supporters or detractors, respectively.
My problem with The White Helmets likely boils down to the timing of when I watched it. The documentary was released in 2016, when Aleppo was still in rebel hands and the war there was a daily occurrence. 2+ years later, the situation in Aleppo is much different. The city is now in the hands of the Syrian government and I spent most of the film wondering how many of the White Helmets were killed in the takeover or executed by the regime. As one of the White Helmets states in the film: “life requires sacrifice”. That’s true on many levels and The White Helmets helps people see what that sacrifice can sometimes look like. That said, I can’t shake the feeling that I would have appreciated the movie more if I had watched it when it was released. It would have felt more like a monument to life instead of a memorial to tragedy.
Regardless, The White Helmets is gripping. It has a palpable emotional impact. I highly recommend it to everyone, but particularly to those who may be less aware than they might be of the events that have transpired in Syria in recent years. The White Helmets represent humanity at it’s best and The White Helmets is a worthy testament to them.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.