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Syrian Heroes May Miss Oscars After Trump Travel Ban, Filmmakers Fear

”These people are the bravest humanitarians on the planet,“ says producer Joanna Natasegara


Donald Trump’s executive order banning foreign nationals from a number of countries from entering the United States is “abhorrent,”  Joanna Natasegara, the producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary short “The White Helmets” told TheWrap on Saturday.

“We have always said that if we were to be nominated, we would bring Raed Saleh, the head of the White Helmets, who has spoken many times in D.C., and Khaled Khateeb, the young cinematographer who risked his life over and over again, as our guests,” said Natasegara. “They’ve been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize — these people are the bravest humanitarians on the planet, and the idea that they could not be able to come with us and enjoy that success is just abhorrent.”

The film follows members of the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, a civilian group that rushes to provide aid when bombs fall or attacks come in civilian neighborhoods. The group is credited with saving 75,000 lives during a bloody and extended war that has found Syrian civilians under attack by the Assad government, ISIS and the Russian military, among others.

“The White Helmets” was directed by Orlando von Einsiedel and produced by Joanna Natasegara, who were Oscar-nominated two years ago for their feature documentary “Virunga.” It is one of two nominated short docs set in Syria, the other being “Watani: My Homeland,” and one of four nonfiction Oscar nominees that deal with the refugee crisis caused by violence in Europe and the Middle East.

Natasegara and von Einsiedel made their new film as a short because they felt a sense of urgency and didn’t want to take the years it would require to shoot and edit a feature. “We recognized very early on that the story in Syria is so urgent that we needed to make something that could come out quickly,” said von Einsiedel, whose film is now available on Netflix. “The Syrian conflict is so difficult and upsetting to engage with, and we felt this story was a way to engage people in what’s going on.”

Asghar Farhadi, the director of the Best Foreign Language Film nominee “The Salesman,” is also in danger of not being allowed into the U.S. for the Oscars.

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