- Category: Interviews
- Created: Thursday, 30 January 2020 12:14
- Published: Thursday, 30 January 2020 13:17
- Written by Lupe R Haas
It’s one thing to hear of the chemical attacks in Syria killing thousands of civilians including children, but watching it takes it to another level in THE CAVE, an Academy Award-nominated documentary now airing on the Nat Geo channel. THE CAVE follows Doctor Amani Ballour and her hospital staff who ran an underground hospital in Ghouta, Syria as they struggle to help victims (mostly children) from Bashar al-Assad's attacks on his own people. Dr. Amani and her medical staff exposed themselves in the documentary which means the ruthless Syrian leader can target this group of people. The film’s producers update CineMovie on how the hospital staff are doing since THE CAVE was released.
THE CAVE director Feras Fayyad is a Syrian refuge living in Copenhagen. He directed his film from afar by hiring various cinematographers, according to THE CAVE producers Sigrid Dyekjaer and Kristine Barfod, to document the brave hospital staff who could've left the country anytime but chose to stay behind and help those affected by the Syrian civil war violence. Shot from 2016-1018, THE CAVE's setting is something out of a MAD MAX movie with a post apocalyptic-feel that sends chills down your spine. The horrors of watching children recoil in pain amidst the constant air strikes and bombing raids is captured by the cameras.
THE CAVE is unlike any other documentary in that there is no narrator who provides a backstory to the events unfolding. Instead, we are embedded along with Dr. Amani and her mostly female staff as they struggle to care for their patients. Dr. Amani is in charge of this underground hospital, a position she won in a democratic vote among the staff. As they attempt to keep up with the amount of patients coming in, the women also must contend with the systematic sexism of the culture. According to producer Sigrid Dyekjaer, they also had issues with some cinematographers who often focused their cameras on the men rather than Dr. Amani. Fayyad would set them straight or he gave Dr. Amani the power of correcting the photographers since he was not there.
THE CAVE producers Sigrid Dyekjaer and Kristine Barfod spoke on behalf of the director at a recent Los Angeles press event earlier this month since Fayyad was refused a Visa to travel to the United States because of the U.S. government's ban of certain Middle Eastern countries. The producers also explained the director is often detained when traveling anywhere because he is also a target of the Syrian government. He has also been detained by immigration police, according to the producers. Luckily, the filmmaker was finally released and arrived to the U.S to make his rounds promoting his film leading up to the Academy Awards where his film is nominated for best documentary.
The medical staff from THE CAVE also face uncertainty when traveling. At the end of THE CAVE, we see Dr. Amani closing the hospital due to lack of medical supplies. Now that the people depicted in THE CAVE are easy targets of the Assad regime, where are they now?
Dyekjaer tells CineMovie, Dr. Amani and others managed to leave Syria but they're still not safe.
“This is like second World War, if you help Jews - the Nazis would go for you," says the producer. "And it’s the same with all the doctors that have been helping and the workers/people helping the hospitals. They are all targeted.”
She adds that one of the young female doctors is still working in the North.
Dr. Armani doesn't take the risk of traveling so she is now living in Turkey with her new husband who was an admirer of her work. Producer Kristine Barfod was surprised when she visited the doctor in Turkey expecting to see a broken person from the experience, but she found quite the opposite.
"I thought I was going to meet someone who was very affected but I met two people who were very, very happy.”
Dr. Amani may be content with her new partner, but she can't help but feel like she didn't do enough.
“She’s sad that she had to leave them. She’s not thinking of all the people she saved," says Dyekjaer. She’s thinking of all the kids she couldn’t save. From chemical attacks, there would be like thousands of children/families affected by the chemical attacks and she would have 10 babies/children coming in, and she would have to decide which of these can I work on at the same time while she had to decide which ones she could not save.”
Dr. Amani and her staff are truly heroes regardless of the outcome. Watch the heart-wrenching THE CAVE now on the Nat Geo channel.