Thursday 22 March 2018

White Helmets producer describes only British Oscar win as 'bitter-sweet'

Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara with the award for Best Documentary Short Subject for The White Helmets
Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara with the award for Best Documentary Short Subject for The White Helmets

The only British winners at the Academy Awards have described their win as "bitter-sweet" after they scooped an Oscar for their documentary about the Syrian war.

The White Helmets, about a group of volunteer rescue workers who risk their lives to pull out others from bomb wreckage, landed the trophy for best documentary short.

British director Orlando von Einsiedel and producer Joanna Natasegara made the film.

Holding up their Oscar statuettes on their way to the Vanity Fair Oscars after-party, they told the BBC that they were "thrilled" for The White Helmets, "the heroes at the heart of our film".

"We feel like this honour has come from the Academy to them to honour their work. We really feel this award is recognising their work," Natasegara said.

"The whole situation is bitter-sweet. We wish we'd never had to make this film. We wish we didn't have to be here tonight with this award

"But we do and so we are pleased that at least they get the recognition that they deserve."

Von Einsiedel told BBC Breakfast: "It feels humbling if I'm honest. When we started this project the entire thing was to try and spread the word and magnify the voices of the White Helmets, the heroes at the heart of our film, and I feel that we've had the best platform to do that that we could have even imagined."

The win comes after a cinematographer on the Netflix documentary was barred from entering the US.

Syrian Khaled Khateeb, 21, was blocked from travelling to Los Angeles for the ceremony after US officials reported finding "derogatory information" against him, the Associated Press reported.

On stage, director Von Einsiedel read a statement from The White Helmets' founder Raed Saleh calling for an end to the "bloodshed in Syria".

"We're so grateful that this film has highlighted our work to the world," the statement said.

"Our organisation is guided by a verse from the Koran: 'To save one life is to save all of humanity.'

"We have saved more than 82,000 civilian lives. I invite anyone here who hears me to work on the side of life, to stop the bloodshed in Syria and around the world.

"It's very easy for these guys to feel they're forgotten. This war's been going on for six years. If everyone could just stand up and remind them that we all care, that this war ends as quickly as possible."

Their win came during a disappointing night for British talent, with Naomie Harris, Andrew Garfield and Dev Patel going home empty-handed.

The Academy Awards were the worst results for Britain in at least 10 years.

Natasegara described their win as "a huge shock" and "very surreal".

Von Einsiedel said that it was "amazing" to be the only British winners.

"We wish there'd been more Brits that had won tonight because the British film industry is incredible but we're proud to be representing our country," he said.

He said of cinematographer Khateeb: "We wanted nothing more than for him to be here. He hasn't been and that's very sad for us. But the moment we found out we won we told him and he was thrilled. That makes us feel very proud."

He said of the White Helmets: "We really want people to know about their work. They do the most incredible work in the world."

Asked about George Clooney buying the movie rights to the story, the pair told Colin Paterson on Radio 5 Live that it was "early days".

Quizzed about whether he had heard from the Hollywood star, von Einsiedel added: "Our emails have gone crazy so we haven't even been checking our messages."

Press Association

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