This year a number of Oscar-nominated films focused on the European refugee crisis and the Syrian Civil War. The Best Documentary Short category features two films, Watani: My Homeland and The White Helmets, that focus on the situation in Syria. Another short documentary nominee, 4.1 Miles, as well as a Best Documentary feature nominee, Fire at Sea, focus on refugees that cross the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. Keep reading to learn more about each film.
Watani: My Homeland
Watani was filmed over three years in Syria and Germany. The film focuses on the family of Abu Ali, a member of the Free Syrian Army. Abu Ali is eventually captured by ISIS, and the family flees war-torn Aleppo in search of a new life in Germany. The film pays special attention to the children, how the war has affected their outlook on life, and their experience of resettling in a new country.
4.1 Miles follows the efforts of Kyriakos Papadopoulos and his crew as they attempt to rescue refugees from the Aegean Sea near Lesbos. Director Daphne Matziaraki, a native of Greece, accompanied Papadopoulos’ crew for three weeks in 2015. In a recent interview, Matziaraki noted that Papadopoulos and other members of the Greek coastguard were not prepared or equipped to deal with the refugee crisis. In fact, there were only four coast guard boats assigned with the duty of rescuing people. The entire interview is worth reading, and it can be found here.
Fire at Sea
Fire at Sea looks at Lampedusa, an island off the coast of Sicily, and how it has been affected by the refugee crisis. Due to the island’s close proximity to Tunisia, it is a popular destination for refugees who cross the Mediterranean Sea. By focusing on a local boy and a doctor who help the refugees, the film attempts to approach the crisis from the point of view of Lampedusa’s citizens. In February of last year, the Berlin International Film Festival awarded the documentary the Golden Bear, the festival’s highest honor.
The White Helmets
The Netflix-distributed White Helmets won the Oscar for Best Short Documentary. Before the Oscar ceremony, there was some controversy surrounding cinematographer Khaled Khatib’s entry into the United States. The Syrian cinematographer was granted a visa to visit the US in order to attend the award ceremony. However, after he was recently detained by Turkish police for unknown reasons, the US Department of Homeland Security barred him from entering the country.
White Helmets follows a group of Syrian volunteers who work as rescue workers. The rescue workers risk their lives trying to recover people from the rubble of bombed buildings. While carrying out their work, they face the threat of “double tap” bombings where the attackers target anyone who enters the air strike site. The group has also been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for its work.