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    Members of the Syrian Civil Defence, known as the White Helmets, search for victims amid the rubble of a destroyed building following reported air strikes in the rebel-held Qatarji neighbourhood of the northern city of Aleppo, on October 17, 2016

    'Last Men In Aleppo' Filmmaker Gets Front-Row Treatment In Davos

    © AFP 2018 / KARAM AL-MASRI
    Opinion
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    Denis Bolotsky
    244

    As world leaders gathered in the Swiss Alps for their annual meeting, another parallel event was being held in Davos. The Open Forum, which is free for everyone to attend, tackled issues such as global warming, democracy, war and peace.

    However, some Forum events, such as the screening of the documentary “Last Men in Aleppo”, backed only one side of the Syrian civil war story.

    The 200-seat-auditorium across the street from Swiss Alpine Middle School in Davos is full. In the audience are mostly locals – adults and about two dozen kids in their early teens, with at least one big group attending the event with their teacher.

    ​The film is full of disturbing imagery – burned human body parts, children with gaping head wounds, corpses being pulled from under the debris, so the presence of schoolkids at the screening in Davos seems rather bizarre. The documentary tells the story of a group of rescue workers in the Eastern part of war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo. It features a Hollywood-style score, which creates chilling atmosphere similar to Hollywood hits such as Dunkirk.

    ​However, the film’s director Firas Fayyad says that he doesn’t want the characters look like Hollywood-style heroes, comparing himself with no less than… the world’s greatest dramatist.

    “We would have never heard about the conflict of Hamlet without Shakespeare” – he says – “We would have listened to a small part of the 15h century. With Shakespeare we understand what kind of lives these people lived, what kind of conflict they lived through. So this here is not to bring them as White Helmets, it’s to bring them as humans, I didn’t want to make these people as heroes.”

    Firas Fayyad’s career skyrocketed in recent months as his documentary received numerous awards, including Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Sundance Festival. Now it’s being nominated for the Oscars – the fact that shocked his critics.

    “I find that absolutely extraordinary that we are facing a possibility of yet again a Hollywood Oscar being given to what is an Al Qaeda promotional feature film” – says Vanessa Beeley, an independent investigative journalist who travelled to Syria and spent months doing something that no other western reporters bothered to do – fact-checking the White Helmets’ story.

    And the story, according to Beeley, is quite different from messages that Fayyad and the western mainstream media are trying to convey. She discovered that the White Helmets headquarters in Aleppo, which were shown in Fayyad’s documentary, were located right next-door to Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra base, the Abu Amara battalion building and the terrorists’ media center.

    “We have to ask the question: why is this multi-million-dollar-financed organization and the director of the movie that is promoting them” – says Beeley – “Why are they basically showcasing an organization that is clearly affiliated with Al-Qaeda?”

    According to Vanessa Beeley the bravery and impartiality of the White Helmets is being disputed by numerous Syrians who lived in terrorist-controlled areas. She met with locals, who criticized the rescue crews for working only in terrorist-controlled areas, and ignoring calls for help from ordinary civilians elsewhere.

    However, it seems that any attempts to challenge the western-backed Syria narrative in Europe, including the “White Helmets” story are often considered marginal, “fake-news” or “Assad propaganda”, and mainstream media continually reinforces just one side of the Syrian civil war.

    So when Firas Fayyad was giving a Q&A session after the screening in Davos, the audience was merely focusing on cinematic details or even discussing the tale of rescue workers as long-awaited “positive news” from Syria.

    The White Helmets, or Syria Civil Defense was formed in 2014 and operates in Turkey and in parts of Syria, which are not controlled by the government.

    ​In 2016 the organization faced criticism after a video appeared online with White Helmet members posing amidst rubble in what the organization claimed to be their version of  the viral “Mannequin Challenge” flashmob.

    Related:

    Media Watchdog Demands Cancelation of Conference on White Helmets' Activities
    Why the White Helmets in Syria 'Cause More Harm Than Good'
    UK Foreign Secretary Condemns Murder of 7 'White Helmets' Volunteers in Syria
    White Helmets 'Used as Propaganda by NATO for Further Intervention Into Syria'
    Tags:
    Firas Fayyad, Syria, Aleppo, Davos
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