The maker of the documentary “Last Men in Aleppo” has made Oscars history for his war-torn country, Syria.
The 90-minute documentary is the first Syrian film to be nominated for an Academy Award. Firas Fayyad, the Syrian director and writer of the film who is also from Aleppo, called the nomination “a big shout out to justice” because it documents what he called the “war crimes” of the Syrian government.
The Netflix production follows a group of first responders in the White Helmets who remain in the opposition-held part of Aleppo city and dig through the rubble and follow bombings from the Syrian government for survivors. They also pull out the dead from under the devastation in some heart-wrenching scenes when seconds can make a difference between life and death. The rescuers themselves often come under attack as they carry out their rescue missions.
The documentary also tells the story of Syria as it is being ripped apart by seven years of war.
“They say those who have the power always write history. We who don’t have power are now writing history, one that can’t be (erased),” Fayyad said in a phone interview while attending the global summit in Davos, Switzerland.
The White Helmets are not without controversy. They only operate in opposition-held areas, where government services are almost none existent and aerial bombings are recurrent. Syrian government supporters accuse them of being politically affiliated with the rebel groups. The documentary portrays the lives of the men who volunteered for the task as their country has plunged into war.
The first responders’ bravery has inspired many around the world. They were the subject of another Netflix documentary, “The White Helmets,” directed by British filmmaker Orlando von Einsiedel, which won the short documentary Academy Award last year.
Making it to the United States is an added struggle for Fayyad, who left the war-torn country in 2012 and lives in Denmark. With his Syrian passport, he has been interrogated for hours before being permitted in the US. His producer, also a Syrian, will have to “work hard” to make it to Los Angeles for the Academy Awards on March 4. Syria is one of the country’s that face a travel ban to the United States.
The other nominees for best documentary feature are “Abacus: Small Enough To Jail,” ”Face Places,” ”Icarus” and “Strong Island.”