Putting together the documentary “The Cave” — which follows a group of mostly female doctors working at a subterranean hospital in Eastern Ghouta during the Syrian Civil War — was so traumatizing that the filmmakers employed an on-call therapist during production.
“Some days I could only work one hour, and then I had to go home, crying,” editor Per Kirkegaard told awards editor Steve Pond during TheWrap’s Oscars Screening Series on Sunday. “But it’s a little price to pay, given what the Syrian people are experiencing.”
Pediatrician Amani Ballour is the subject of the Best Feature Documentary nominee. Viewers follow the doctor as she operates the underground hospital nicknamed “The Cave,” covering under shelling as she pulls shrapnel from children’s mouths and resuscitates victims of chemical warfare.
“I will never do a film like this without getting the therapy session — it’s crucial to doing a good job,” producer Kirstine Barfod added. “You could lose yourself in this.”
Nevertheless, Barfod and Kirkegaard understood where their efforts — which involved coordinating with Syrian photographers to obtain over 500 hours of footage — went.
“We need to show this,” Barfod said. “The war is still going on [and] medical people are being attacked in Syria.”
Getting the Syrian doctors that star in “The Cave” to United States for awards season was no small task. But, then again, none of the filmmaking process was.
Most of the doctors from the “The Cave” left Syria to seek refuge in Europe prior to the film’s release–adding to the challenge of bringing them together for the Oscars.
Director Feras Fayyad’s visa struggles are well-documented. (Fayyad was in attendance at the Screening Series but under the weather and did not take the stage.) Dr. Ballour recently secured a visa and arrived in New York on Sunday.
“I’m hoping by the end of the week we’ll see the full team for the first time at the Oscars,” Barfod added.
Fayyad previously earned an Oscar nomination for his documentary “Last Man in Aleppo” in 2017. His visa was rejected due to President Trump’s Executive Order 13780.