The White Helmets leader Raed Saleh will attend the Oscars to represent The White Helmets, the nominated Netflix documentary that spotlights the Syrian rescue group.
“We are eagerly looking forward to coming to the Oscars,” Saleh said in a statement. “It will give us an important platform for the voices of Syrian children and women trapped under the rubble as a result of the airstrikes and artillery shelling, and for the voices of thousands of displaced Syrians who have been forced from their homes.”
The White Helmets filmmakers previously thought Saleh would not be able to make it to the Oscars because of President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, which restricted citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries — including Syria — from entering the U.S.
“They’ve been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize — these people are the bravest humanitarians on the planet, and the idea that they could not be able to come with us and enjoy that success is just abhorrent,” The White Helmets producer Joanna Natasegara said in a statement days after Trump signed the executive order in late January.
The group’s hundreds of volunteers “save people on all sides of the conflict” in Syria, the official White Helmets website says. To date, they’ve saved over 78,000 lives in addition to providing public services like distributing safety information.
The documentary’s cinematographer, Khaled Khateeb (a White Helmet himself), also plans to attend the Oscars ceremony.
“It is so important that people see the film,” he said in a statement. “It is important that people understand that Syria has people who want the same things they want: peace, jobs, family, and to live without the fear of bombs. This is what I hope the film does.”
The White Helmets is currently streaming on Netflix. Read Khateeb’s full statement below.
I was 16 when the revolution started. In the first few years of the uprising I saw a lot of foreign photojournalists and TV crews come to document what was happening in my city of Aleppo. I watched them, dreaming that I could do that: tell the story of my city and my people. When I saw the work of the White Helmets, I knew that was the story of Syria I wanted to tell to the world.
The White Helmets have a motto taken from the Quran: “to save a life is to save all humanity.” I started to document their work as a volunteer to show the world that everyday Syrians were pulling humanity from the rubble of bombs.
When the bombs fall I follow the teams to the scene. I watch as they use diggers, cranes, the drills, their hands — anything that can help rescue those trapped. It is my job to remain calm, to capture the reactions from people recovering from the shock of seeing their homes, families, lives buried under rubble. I try to focus on capturing their stories.
The media is so important for the White Helmets and other humanitarian groups working in Syria. We want people to see and understand what is happening: who is doing the killing and who is working for peace. I do this work because I believe if the world understands the suffering of my people they will be moved to stop it; to stand with us on the side of life.
In November 2015, the director Orlando von Einsiedel and producer Joanna Natasegara contacted us about making a documentary. They had seen the rescue missions we shot and wanted to tell our story to the world. We watched their other films and understood they are people who know how to tell the stories of heroes. I hoped that we could work together to create a film that would tell the true story of the White Helmets to people around the world.
I worked with the team in Adana while they were shooting at the White Helmets training ground. I learnt a lot from the cinematographer Frank Dow about how to shoot, to edit, to tell the story. By the end my notebook was full.
It is so important that people see the film. It is important that people understand that Syria has people who want the same things they want: peace, jobs, family, and to live without the fear of bombs. This is what I hope the film does.
I plan to travel to L.A. for the Oscars, where the film is nominated for an award. If we win this award, it will show people across Syria that people around the world support them. It will give courage to every volunteer who wakes up every morning to run towards bombs.
If I cannot enter the U.S., I will not give up: we know that we have many friends in the U.S., that there are people that share our humanitarian values. I look forward to meeting them all one day.
When this war is over I dream of going back to study film — we Syrians have many, many more stories to tell.