'White Helmets' filmmakers discuss Raed Saleh and Khaled Khateeb's absences

The film won best documentary short.

February 27, 2017, 3:50 AM

— -- When "The White Helmets" took the Oscar for best documentary short, filmmakers Joanna Natasegara and Orlando von Einsiedel read a statement from the film's star, Syria Civil Defense head Raed Saleh, who was not present.

Backstage afterward, von Einsiedel explained Saleh's absence, as well as that of "White Helmets" cinematographer Khaled Khateeb.

Saleh stayed behind in Syria, while Khateeb, von Einsiedel said, was unable to attend because of an incident with his visa.

The Associated Press reported on Saturday that U.S. officials said they found "derogatory information" about Khateeb and would not let him into the country.

"Well, Raed Saleh, he is the leader of the White Helmets, he couldn't come in the end because the last couple of days in Syria, the violence has really escalated, and he does lifesaving work, and he decided in the end his time was better placed to do that," von Einsiedel said. "And Khaled Khateeb, our cinematographer, I mean, we're confused about this too. The last two weeks have been very difficult. He had a U.S. visa, he tried to board a plane and he wasn't able to come. So we're very sad about that."

"White Helmets" focuses on the group of volunteer rescuers who work in war-torn Syria and Turkey. On stage, von Einsiedel read a statement from Saleh that invited listeners "to work on the side of life, to stop the bloodshed in Syria and around the world."

“We are honored that ‘The White Helmets’ film has received an Oscar. This film has helped show the world what is happening in Syria and we want to thank our brothers and sisters who stand with us on the side of life," Saleh said in a statement afterward. "But we are not happy to do what we do. We abhor the reality we live in. What we want isn’t support to continue, but rather support to end this work. We hope this film and the attention helps move the world to act to stop the bloodshed in Syria.”

Backstage, Natasegara said that the Oscar win was "bittersweet" because of Khateeb's absence, but said that she spoke to him immediately after the win, and he had a positive message.

"He's thrilled," she said, "because like us, he just wants the world to know about the White Helmets."

He echoed that in his own statement.

“I am absolutely delighted that we won an Oscar -- it shows us that people care about us and the people we serve," he said. "This award is for all the volunteers of the White Helmets and all people around the world who are working for peace.”

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