Arts & Culture

Full Frame: Syrian crisis on screen

A scene from "Last Men in Aleppo," which is screening during the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.
A scene from "Last Men in Aleppo," which is screening during the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

New documentary film “Last Men in Aleppo,” about the Syrian White Helmets, who perform rescue and recovery operations after bombings, screened Friday during the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

The filmmakers weren’t able to attend the screening at The Carolina Theatre, but the film is in the running for the Full Frame Audience Award for Best Feature.

The film from Denmark and Syria, directed by Feras Fayyad, follows the White Helmets through their grim duties of recovering bodies from the rubble after a bombing by Russian fighters supporting Syrian leader Bashar Assad. They also rescue survivors, carefully digging away in the bombed out buildings by hand and machine for the chance that someone survived the airstrikes. In one segment, they pull out babies who died but also a boy who survived and later met the White Helmets who rescued him.

Among the White Helmets are Khaled, a father himself, and Mahmoud, who does not dream of a regular life but rather wants his younger brother, also a White Helmet, to be safe. The men talk about why they do what they do — the struggles, the need to continue because Aleppo and Syria is their home, yet also constantly worried about protecting children and responding to the next bombing.

Khaled, Mahmoud and the other White Helmets often have their eyes on the sky, scanning for aircraft and subsequent bombings, ready to jump in a vehicle and respond. A busted radiator means a delay in their arrival, but they are helped in transit by other civilians.

“This is our destiny. We will die like everyone else,” says a White Helmet as they drive to the latest bombing. Their focus is on saving children. Some discuss trying to go to Turkey but don’t see a future in a refugee camp or another besieged city.

Filmmakers depict the brotherhood, the struggle, the hope and the tasks of surviving in a war zone and trying to save the lives of fellow civilians. Audiences also see the joy in children who still hope amidst war.

Sadie Tillery, Full Frame’s programming director, said that “Last Men in Aleppo” was one of the most difficult films to watch but also inspired her.

Full Frame continues through Sunday in downtown Durham.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan