A film documenting the struggle of Syria’s White Helmets won the Oscar for best short documentary on Sunday. The White Helmets are a group of rescuers who risk their lives to help save victims of bombardment by the Assad regime and its allies on the rebel-held areas.
The 40-minute Netflix film, directed by British documentary-maker Orlando von Einsiedel, follows volunteers as they conduct search and rescue operations in Aleppo and undergo training in Turkey.
Raed Saleh, leader of the rescue group, was not be able to leave his work to attend the awards ceremony in Los Angeles because of the high intensity of air strikes by regime forces on the rebel-areas in the provinces of Damascus, Dara’a, and Homs.
The White Helmets has saved the lives of more than 82,000 civilians since the search and rescue group was established in 2013, Saleh noted.
“I invite anyone here who hears me to work on the side of life, to stop the bloodshed in Syria and around the world,” he said in a statement read by the director who received the award.
“It’s very easy for these guys to feel forgotten. This war has been going on for six years. If everyone could just stand up and remind them that we all care, (then) this war ends as quickly as possible.”
The White Helmets emerged in 2013, working to rescue civilians in rebel-held areas. Since then, the group says it has attracted more than 3,000 volunteers.
The group is named for the distinctive white hard hats worn by its volunteers and has gained international fame for its daring rescues, often filmed and circulated on social media.
The White Helmets were nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize and garnered international support for their candidacy. The group’s volunteers are usually hailed as “real life heroes.”
“The documentary took a lot of effort to make and we’ve been working on it for a long time,” Saleh told AFP ahead of the Oscars. “People who are featured in the film have since died. There’s equipment that you see that has been destroyed.” (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department + Agencies)