We've chosen five short films to watch online that give us a small shapshot of Syrian lives over the last eight years.

In the run up to our screening of Ayouni on Friday, we’ve been thinking about the ways in which different documentaries have deepened our understanding of the lives and experiences of Syrians.

We love the power of short docs in particular to pull one element of a complex, multifaceted situation into focus; and often to put people rather than politics front and centre.

We’ve chosen five short films to watch online this week to give a small snapshot of Syrian lives over the last eight years. These include a photographer witnessing the start of the conflict right on his doorstep; a British filmmaker’s first-person account of the shelling of a Syrian village; the ‘Syrian Civil Defense Force’ who risk their lives to save survivors from the rubble; and at the other end of a desperate and dangerous journey, a Greek coastguard is charged with rescuing refugees from the sea.

The White Helmets / Dir. Orlando Von Einsiedel / 2019 / 40 mins

With their signature white helmets, the members of the Syrian Civil Defense Force have a mission: to save everyone they can. At great personal risk, the small team of volunteers race to the scene of every bombing to rescue the living and recover the dead.

Directed by Orlando von Einsiedel and produced by Joanna Natasegara, The White Helmets won the best short doc Oscar for its moving portrayal of this band of heroic first responders who have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. The film is both a snapshot of the harrowing realities of life for ordinary syrians who remain in the country, and a humbling portrait of the power of the human spirit.

Watch The White Helmets on Netflix.

9 Days From My Window in Aleppo / Dir. Issa Touma, Thomas Vroege, Floor van der Meulen / 2016 / 13 mins

On an August morning in 2012, renowned Syrian photographer Issa Touma saw young men lugging sandbags into his street. This was the start of the uprising in the city of Aleppo.

Touma grabbed his camera and spent nine days holed up in his apartment, recording what was happening in the outside world. What was the result? An unprecedented glimpse into the emergence of a war that is still being fought today.

Syria’s Rebellious Women / Dir. Zaina Erhaim / 2015 / 20 mins

Meet three women activists who remain in rebel-held parts of Syria. As well as facing the constant danger of bombing by the government air force on the one hand and ISIS forces on the other, these women have to battle conservative traditions in a male-dominated society, aggravated by a militarised environment from which many civilians have fled.

With restrictions on their movements, dress and behaviour and disapproval from their families, they nonetheless continue to work both to document the war and to help those who suffer injury, displacement and poverty.

The Bombing of Al-Bara / Dir. Olly Lambert / 2013 / 36 mins

On 28th October 2012, a government jet dropped a bomb on the village of al-Bara 300 meters away from where Olly Lambert was filming a meeting of rebel soldiers. While keeping his camera rolling, Lambert documented the shocking impact of the regime air strike on the civilian population.

It wasn’t until he started editing Syria: Across the Lines for television broadcast that Lambert realised the power of the footage he’d shot that day in al-Bara. It was a candid insight into the difficult realities of documenting war. He added a personal voice over to the raw footage and published it online, creating a rare, immersive and powerful portrait of the civil war.

4.1 Miles / Dir. Daphne Matziaraki / 2016 / 21 mins

Surrounded by the turquoise Aegean sea, the Greek island of Lesbos is just 4.1 miles from the Turkish coast. The coast guards in the quiet harbour used to spend their time conducting routine border patrols. These days they’re on the frontline of a humanitarian crisis.

Daphne Matziaraki follows a day in the life of Kyriakos Papadopoulos, a captain in the Greek Coast Guard. Despite limited resources, he and his crew battle to save thousands of migrants from drowning in the Sea.

This Oscar-nominated short raises crucial questions about our collective responsibility — the choices we make for ourselves, and for other people.