An Injured Syrian child receives treatment at a field hospital after Assad regime forces' air attacks on an opposition-controlled residential area in Douma town, in the eastern Gouta region of Damascus, Syria on September 17, 2015. (Mohammed Badra/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The Cave

Al-Etihad, UAE, January 3

The release of the documentary film The Cave could not have caught us at a more appropriate time. It is directed by Feras Fayyad, who also directed The Last Men in Aleppo in 2017. The documentary revolves around an underground hospital in the besieged city of Ghouta in war-torn Syria, where markets, schools, homes and hospitals were all seen as legitimate targets of airstrikes in an attempt to force the local population to flee. The documentary, drawn from hundreds of hours filmed between 2016 and 2018, focuses on Dr. Amani Ballour, an incredibly inspiring figure. In a culture where women are routinely subjugated, Dr. Ballour, along with many female doctors and nurses, has been working underground on an equal footing with her male counterparts in a way that would not have been allowed above ground. Despair and utilitarianism have made men and women equal in this hospital. Ballour is the director of the hospital, something that sparked resistance among those who did not understand that a woman could be capable of assuming such authority. In one scene, for example, the husband of an injured woman tells Dr. Ballour that women should only be wives and mothers, not doctors. She insists that nobody will tell her what to do and condemns men who use religion as an excuse to oppress women. In a few scenes, Dr. Ballour is seen speaking to her parents on her mobile phone. Her father is very concerned about her. She comforts him by explaining the urgency of what she is doing and describing the wounded victims she’s taking care of. Dr. Ballour has strong support from Salim Namour, the chief surgeon at the hospital, who promoted her to the position of director and admires her. He is another one of the film’s exceptional heroes: In the makeshift operating room, often short of anesthesia and ample supplies, Namour calms patients with classical music such as Mozart played on his smartphone. While directing his documentary film, Fayyad was imprisoned and tortured for 15 months. Because he was not able to participate directly in the filming due to the siege, he recruited three daring cinematographers – Muhammed Khair Al Shami, Ammar Sulaiman and Mohammad Eyad – and worked with them remotely to assemble and amend the footage. It is clear that the risks associated with producing this film were very high. Airstrikes reduced the available land area, and the underground hospital was constantly threatened. The film ends with the hospital closing after government forces and their allies regain control of the region. The biggest lesson I learned from the film concerned the resistance and perseverance of the hospital staff, especially Dr. Ballour, who pledged to return to Syria when the political conditions permit her to do so. She agreed to participate in the film because she wanted viewers around the world to witness the reality of what was happening in Syria. She particularly supports young girls who are treated at her hospital. The film’s most memorable quote comes from Ballour’s father, who tells her: “People will eventually forget the war, but they will never forget you. I am proud of you.” –Peter Rainer (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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