Sundance 2017: Last Men in Aleppo
We live in an informed age with worldly affairs available at the click of a laptop, smartphone, tablet or otherwise. In a sense, we know things are bad in places like Syria, but documentaries like Last Men in Aleppo are vital in film and journalism in that we see a no-nonsense account such as this.
The White Helmets (born from The Syrian Civil Defense) are a nonprofit civil defense group whose mission is to rescue civilians caught in the never ending onslaught of bombings that take place in rebel-occupied Aleppo. This city is a hotbed of conflict in the Syrian Civil war, replete with Russian air strikes and Shiite militia attacks at the behest of President Bashar al-Assad; a somnambulant leader who considers the politically neutral unarmed civilian group a propaganda group fueled by terrorist groups.
Last Men in Aleppo introduces us to some of the White Helmets leaders; Khaled, Subhi, and Mahmoud who immediately respond to airstrikes and bombings, digging through rubble in hot zones throughout the city of Aleppo, which is a depleted war zone whose devastation is on par with WWII-era Stalingrad. Khaled is at the center of the many volunteers, and the documentary provides a dimensional look at his family life, the interspersed (but precious few) moments of levity, and scenes where Khaled and his volunteers talk shop, sing, make fish ponds and find ways to maintain their spirits.
Last Men in Aleppo in an important film with little dramatic emphasis, simply because it doesn’t need any, the content is of forthright urgency and the bravery and courage of the people we see onscreen in unfounded. While it’s harrowing footage is not for the faint of heart, this is a work of great significance that finds a surplus of humanity in the lives of the front running volunteers of the White Helmets.
A debut feature from its directors Firas Fayyad & Steen Johannessen. Firas Fayyad is a Syrian native whose body of work is rooted in projects examining the contemporary issues in his native country. Steen Johannessen, credited as an editor on a variety of documentaries (some credits of not include A Life in Dirty Movies & Putin’s Kiss). Last Men in Aleppo was produced in cooperation with AMC and Aleppo Media Centre, a media outlet whose photojournalists contributed to the footage of the film.