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The Subject of an Oscar-Nominated Documentary Starts a New Life

Feb 04, 2020 | 831 videos
Video by Feras Fayyad

In August 2013, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a massive chemical attack on the rebel stronghold of Al Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus. More than 1,400 civilians were killed that day. Thousands of dying patients flooded into makeshift hospitals—one of them underground, known to locals simply as “the Cave.” In the dark tunnels of that subterranean hospital, a 29-year-old pediatrician worked tirelessly to save children’s lives. Her name is Dr. Amani Ballour, and she would risk her life to work in the Cave for five years. In 2018, she was forcibly evacuated to Turkey. Three months later, at an international humanitarian conference, she would be called to give official testimony as a witness to the war crimes committed by the Assad regime in Eastern Ghouta.


Dr. Ballour and her medical staff are the subjects of Feras Fayyad’s Oscar-nominated documentary The Cave, a harrowing cinéma vérité account of one of the last bastions of emergency services in war-torn Ghouta. Fayyad’s follow-up short documentary, First Eyewitness, premieres on The Atlantic today. In it, Dr. Ballour struggles to adjust to life in Turkey while establishing her new role as an advocate for Syria on the international stage. She hopes to return to practicing medicine someday, but for now she is haunted by her years in the Cave, where she treated many children with severe head injuries, including one child who was suffering so much, his mother asked Dr. Ballour to put him out of his misery.


“All medical work has become suffering,” Dr. Ballour says in the film. “I can’t work like I used to. Before, I had a desire to help people … now I’m broken, unstable, and not able to integrate into society.”

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Author: Emily Buder

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