Celebrate Women’s History Month with a powerful portrait of courage, resilience and Girl Power.

The Queens Historical Society will screen “The Cave” in Flushing on Saturday, March 14, at 2:40 p.m. Attendance is free.

In Arabic with some English dialogue and rated PG-13 due to war-related content, this National Geographic documentary reports on the modern military conflict in Syria via an underground hospital in Eastern Al Ghouta, a town outside the capital city of Damascus.

The director, Feras Fayyad, tells the story without narration or talking head interviews. He focuses on only a few main characters and uses long-tracking shots that travel through dark subterranean tunnels to create a “you-are-there” effect.

The Cave” makes it obvious that “war is hell,” but feminism and “hope amid hopelessness” are also main themes. There’s no time for imposing patriarchy, as civilians are constantly being injured by gunfire, bombardments, and chemical attacks. Plus, the doctors face constant shortages in medicine, equipment, and surgical supplies, not to mention food and water.

Although prohibited in much of the Muslim world, Dr. Amani Ballour runs the makeshift hospital – a series of tunnels with side rooms. The 29-year-old female pediatrician, who hasn’t left the town in six years, is clearly the protagonist. She treats patients and manages the entire operation in this thankless environment. However, she has a strong supporting cast in Dr. Salim Namour, a much older male surgeon, and Samaher, an upbeat female nurse.

In one early scene, a man berates Dr. Amani because she has no medicine for his wife. He blames the scarcity on the fact that a woman is running The Cave and suggests the physician’s place is in the home. However, Dr. Salim steps in and tells the man that Dr. Amani was elected to her directorial position because she’s so competent.

In another scene, Dr. Amani’s own father tells her that she’s fantastic, but she’ll never get the professional respect she deserves because of her gender.

Every now and then, the cameras go outside, where male chauvinism also reigns. Dr. Amani makes a house call to a mother and her four malnourished children in one sequence. The mom complains that she has no money because local men won’t hire her.

Near the end, a chemical attack hits Al Ghouta, and crying victims in chlorine-soaked clothes stream into the hospital, including one in wheelbarrow. The damage leads to the hospital’s eventual shuttering, and Dr. Amani heads to Turkey, where the memories of war continue to haunt her.

Fayyad, the director, won an Oscar for “Last Men in Aleppo,” a 2017 documentary on the White Helmets, an all-volunteer search-and-rescue crew that pulls victims from the rubble in Syria. “The Cave” is the companion piece that was mostly filmed in 2018. It premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice award in the documentary category. It was then nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary Feature category.

The Queens Historical Society will screen “The Cave” at its headquarters, a two-story, Victorian-style, landmarked dwelling named “Kingsland Homestead” at 143-35 37th Ave. There is on-the-street parking.

Editor’s note: Saturday’s screening is part of an ongoing free film series at Queens Historical Society. The next one is “True Justice” on Saturday, April 4, at 2:30 p.m. This HBO production follows Bryan Stevenson, an Alabama public interest attorney who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that fights racial discrimination in the penal system.

The War in Syria

More than 360,000 people have died and various cities have been destroyed during the Syrian war, which is still hot, despite nine United Nations-led peace talks. Plus, almost 200,000 people are missing and several million are homeless.

The conflict began in various cities about eight years ago as a peaceful uprising against the Middle East country’s high unemployment rate, government corruption, and lack of freedom. President Bashar al-Assad responded with deadly force to crush the dissent. The violence quickly escalated with opposition forces taking up arms.

As Syria is a Muslim-majority country that sits on oil fields, the war quickly became an international crisis. President al-Assad has received military support from Russia, Iran and Jihadi militias. Meanwhile, several European countries, the United States, Turkey, and a few Gulf Arab countries have supported the opposition.

Eastern Ghouta was once a rebel stronghold, but most of it is in ruins now.

Images: The Cave


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