On Wednesday 4th December, I travelled to Picturehouse Central in Piccadilly Circus to attend the screening of The Cave, on behalf of Global Girl Media UK.
The Cave is a Syrian- Danish documentary directed by Syrian filmmaker, Feras Fayyad, and produced by Kirstine Barfod, exploring the underground hospital run by Dr Amani and her team in Ghouta, Syria.
Dr Amani trained to be a doctor at university and began her specialisation in paediatric care until the Syrian civil war started. Her devotion to helping children was apparent throughout the whole documentary. She consoled a young girl who was crying because of the continual bombing from the Russian war planes. She gave the girl hope for the future through asking her what she wanted to be when she got older, to which she replied: a teacher. It links to the common theme running throughout: that women deserve to work in Syria because they are influential, strong and equal to men.
These values are demonstrated through Amani, as well as nurse Samaher and Dr Alaa, who we meet in the documentary. Dr Salim, a senior male doctor, must also be praised for his strong work ethic and sticking up for Dr Amani when she was berated for working instead of getting married.
They all found solace in pastimes and each other, to help them deal with the everyday trials and tribulations of working in the middle of a war zone. Dr Amani loved plants, which her parents repeatedly told her they were watering until she reunited with them.
Samaher loved cooking and doubled up as a chef at the hospital. She regularly made dishes such as falafel and rice to feed her fellow staff members, even though some were quick to complain about the rice being hard. However, Samaher used her sharp wit to quickly retort.
Dr Alaa oozed happiness and dedication for her profession. One extremely relatable scene took place on Dr Amani’s 30th birthday. She spoke about wanting to get her teeth fixed and put on some mascara to make her feel better. I often take for granted the power that makeup has on my mood. As many good friends do, Dr Alaa ensured Dr Amani that she already looked beautiful.
Dr Salim listened to classical music whilst operating on patients. Music was used in a creative way in the documentary. In one part, as Dr Salim was listening to music, the music intensified over the course of the next scene, which showed a staff member at the hospital trying to bring Dr Amani food whilst battling with the sound and lack of awareness of where and when bombs could fall. It showed how difficult simple tasks can become when you are situated in the middle of a war zone.
What made the documentary truly powerful was its ability to unite the audience through their emotions. I listened as we as an audience, in tandem with each other, cried when young Syrian children died from over- exposure to chlorine, laughed at Samaher’s comments about loving food and tutted when one of the patients at the hospital felt that Dr. Amani should look after her home rather than managing a hospital.
The end of the documentary revealed that Dr Alaa was the only one out of the four to stay in Syria. It is not known what will happen to the remaining three. They all tearfully said they had to leave because the bombs were getting ever closer to the hospital, and resources and medicine had become a fantasy.
The question and answer session with the director and producer following on from the screening was insightful.
Fayyad stated some of the unseen footage was so graphic that everyone involved with the project needed therapy. One image that remains etched on my mind is of a child’s torn breast, revealing their beating heart; an image that did not feature in the documentary but is a very poignant symbol of how the documentary is aimed at tugging on people’s heartstrings.
One audience member asked if people in the west really care about the plight of Syrians. Neither Fayyad not Barfod could answer the questions. I don’t think anyone really can. However, leaving a place that was your home must be one of the most difficult things for humans to do. We need to think, what would we do in the position of a Syrian?