Oscar nominee Feras Fayyad (“Last Men in Aleppo”) delivers an unflinching story of the Syrian war with his powerful new documentary, The Cave. For besieged civilians, hope and safety lie underground inside the subterranean hospital known as the Cave, where pediatrician and managing physician Dr. Amani Ballour and her colleagues Samaher and Dr. Alaa have claimed their right to work as equals alongside their male counterparts, doing their jobs in a way that would be unthinkable in the oppressively patriarchal culture that exists above. Following the women as they contend with daily bombardments, chronic supply shortages and the ever-present threat of chemical attacks, The Cave paints a stirring portrait of courage, resilience and female solidarity.
Meet the Cast
Dr. Amani BallourFILM SUBJECT
A natural leader and problem solver, Dr. Amani Ballour was only 29 when her colleagues elected her to oversee the Cave in 2016. As director, Dr. Amani contended with the grave realities specific to running a hospital under siege conditions: finding solutions to equipment and medicine shortages; protecting the structure itself by adding aboveground and underground fortifications; and, above all, ensuring the safety of patients and staff. Meanwhile, she continued to work as a pediatrician, tending to the constant stream of sick and injured children who needed treatment. She also assisted in surgery.
Dr. Amani is a compassionate and reassuring figure to the infants and children she treats, and to their parents. She fights back against the patriarchal conservatism that designates women as weak and inferior to men, and is staunchly committed to standing up for women’s rights to live and work as they choose. She lives her beliefs, too, whether she’s encouraging little girls to see themselves as important and capable, or offering jobs to civilian women who need a means of income.
Dr. Amani was born and raised in Eastern Al Ghouta and completed her general medical studies at the University of Damascus in 2012. She began studying for her specialty in pediatrics but abandoned her studies to help the people of Al Ghouta, who were coming under attack from the Assad regime. She began treating children — particularly those who were injured under bombardment in remote areas of the province — in emergency rooms. She began working at the Cave in 2013.
The 2013 chemical attack on Al Ghouta altered Dr. Amani’s life and perspective as she worked in rescue and relief operations. She kept detailed journals about the attack and the days that followed, and wrote and blogged about the attack’s impact on people and the environment. She was forcibly displaced to northern Syria in 2018 and currently lives in Turkey.
Lively, funny and warm, nurse Samaher is the Cave’s mother hen. She’s also a hard worker who knows how to stand up for herself. She sustained a head injury in one of the attacks on the Cave; as a result, she suffers from partial amnesia. She generally makes light of her condition with her colleagues but remains deeply fearful of another attack.
Samaher studied and received several trainings in professional nursing before the start of the Syrian conflict. At the beginning of the uprising in 2011, she and her sister assisted in rescuing injured protestors. When the regime started targeting medical professionals, her pro-Assad brother-in-law reported his wife, Samaher’s sister, to the authorities. Samaher and her husband left for Jordan in 2012 to avoid arrest. But with rising numbers of severely injured Syrians arriving in Jordan, Samaher felt a responsibility to contribute to relief efforts. She returned to Syria in 2013 and began working at the Cave.
Dr. Salim NamourFILM SUBJECT
Dr. Salim Namour is the oldest doctor working at the Cave, as well as the most experienced. In the early days of the 2011 uprising, he adopted a pseudonym, Sakhr, which means “rock.” And he is very much the rock his colleagues can always count on: calm, supportive, loyal. He is a good friend and adviser to Dr. Amani, he and makes it clear to everyone that he respects and believes in her. He also works closely with Samaher as he performs the most difficult surgeries at the Cave, always with classical music playing on his mobile phone.
Dr. Salim is a general surgeon and previously volunteered in the medical rescue and relief of civilian victims of the Iraq war as well as the Lebanese-Israeli war in 2006. When the uprising in Syria began in 2011, he treated injured protestors and adopted the pseudonym Sakhr to avoid being identified by the Assad regime and its supporters. He was one of the most active doctors in Al Ghouta after the 2013 chemical weapons attack. He provided testimony to the United Nations and human rights organizations that investigated the attacks. The siege of Eastern Al Ghouta separated him from his wife and four children, who were living in regime-controlled Damascus.
Dr. AlaaFILM SUBJECT
Quiet and shy, Dr. Alaa is dedicated to her work. She completed her medical studies at the University of Damascus and was studying for her specialty in pediatrics when the uprising began in 2011. She was forced to abandon her studies when the regime took over university medical centers. She volunteered at field hospitals and treated injured protestors. Dr. Alaa was working in Al Ghouta when it came under siege and went to work with Dr. Amani and Samaher after the Cave was established. She continued her studies in pediatrics on her own to complete her specialization. She is currently living and working in the northern region of Syria which is under Turkish protection.
Meet the Filmmakers
Feras FayyadDIRECTOR, CO-WRITER
Feras Fayyad is an award-winning filmmaker who has received particular recognition for his work on contemporary Syrian issues and the political transformation of the Arab world. His most recent film, “Last Men in Aleppo,” earned him a 2018 Academy Award nomination and an Emmy for Best Documentary Feature. The film followed a small group of volunteer rescue workers with the White Helmets civil defense organization. “Last Men in Aleppo” premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Documentary competition. The film went on to screen at festivals around the globe and received another 18 international awards, including Best World Cinema Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, Audience Award Washington D.C. International Film Festival, Best World Cinema Sarasota Film Festival, a Peabody Award and the Critics’ Choice Award.
Fayyad was born in Syria in 1984. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in audio-visual arts and filmmaking from The International Film and Television School EICAR in Paris. He has directed and edited several films, both documentaries and fiction. His other films include the feature documentary “My Escape” and television documentaries “Between the Fighter in Syria” and “Wide Shot-Close Shot.” He also produced, co-wrote and edited the award-winning short film “One Day in Aleppo” directed by Ali Alibrahim.
Kirstine Barfod has an extensive background in filmmaking and has produced and co-produced several feature documentaries and series and short fiction films. She is currently working with the Oscar-nominated director Feras Fayyad (“Last Men in Aleppo,” The Cave) on his third feature documentary, “The Mystery of Epilogue.” Other forthcoming films are the feature documentary “Family Apart,” by Mira Jargil and the documentary series “Absolute Beginners,” by Thora Lorentzen. Previous credits include the acclaimed feature documentary “Venus,” by Mette Carla Albrechtsen and Lea Glob (Audience Award, 2017 IndieLisboa International Independent Film Festival); the feature documentary “Born to Lose,” by Palle Demant; and the comedic short “Euroman,” by Gavriil Tzafkas.
A leading figure in Denmark’s film industry, Sigrid Dyekjær has produced over 20 documentary features in the past 20 years. She is a co-founder of the respected production company Danish Documentary Productions, which she established in 2007 with directors Eva Mulvad, Pernille Rose Grønkjær, Phie Ambo and Mikala Krogh.
Her most recent credits include Feras Fayyad´s (Oscar nominated with the film Last men in Aleppo), “The Cave”, premiered at TIFF 2019 and won Audience Award, Viktor Kossakovsky’s acclaimed “Aquarela,” released in the United States by Sony Classics in August 2019; Jørgen Leth’s “I Walk”; Mulvad’s “Love Child” and “A Modern Man”; Grønkjær’s “Hunting for Hedonia” and “The Monastery”; Jacob Thuesen and Tómas Gislason’s “The Missing Films” about Lars von Trier.
Alisar Hasan is a Syrian journalist, writer and producer. She produced the 2013 short film “Untold Stories,” which screened at the Locarno Film Festival and CPH:DOX.
Muhammed Khair Al ShamiCINEMATOGRAPHER
Born and raised in Damascus, Muhammed Khair Al Shami is a video journalist, production coordinator and cinematographer. As a video journalist, he works for several international media and television companies, including Getty Images, BBC World, Al Jazeera English, TRT World, Anadolu news agency and AFP.
Born and raised in Damascus, Ammar Sulaiman is a video journalist who works for several international media and television companies, including BBC World, Al Jazeera English, TRT World, Anadolu news agency and AFP.
Born and raised in Damascus, Mohammed Eyad is a video journalist who works for several international media and television companies, including BBC World, Al Jazeera English, TRT World, Anadolu news agency and AFP.
Peter AlbrechtsenSOUND DESIGNER
Peter Albrechtsen is a Danish sound designer and music supervisor based in Copenhagen, where he works on both feature films and documentaries. His recent credits include the smash Norwegian thriller “Thelma” and the Cannes Award-winning Finnish feature “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki.” He also worked as a sound effects recording mixer and sound effects recordist on Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk.”
His recent documentary credits include the festival favorites “Bill Nye: Science Guy,” “Transformations” (aka “Land of the Free”) and “True Conviction.” In 2018 he was invited to become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Along with his sound work, Albrechtsen has worked as a music supervisor and has collaborated closely with globally acclaimed musicians such as Antony and the Johnsons, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Efterklang.
Per Kirkegaard is one of the most established editors in the Danish film industry. He has edited numerous critically acclaimed documentaries and features. Among his credits is “Accused,” winner of the European Film Academy Discovery Prix Fassbinder.
His latest credits include the feature “Borg vs. McEnroe” and the documentaries “The Kingmaker,” by Lauren Greenfield, and “That Summer,” by Gören Hugo Olson. Other credits include the television documentary “Armadillo,” which earned him an Emmy for best editing of a long-format documentary, and “Chuck Norris vs. Communism,” selected for the Sundance Film Festival World Cinema Documentary competition.
Kirkegaard is renowned for his musically attuned editing style, his precision as a storyteller, his loyalty to the projects he engages in and his unique eye for the poetic yet specific. For the past four years, he has been one of the lecturers at dok.incubator, a documentary rough cut workshop in Europe.
Matthew Herbert is a prolific and accomplished musician, artist, producer and writer whose range of innovative works extends from more than 30 albums including Ivor Novello-nominated film scores (“Life in a Day”) as well as music for the theater, Broadway, TV, games and radio. He has twice collaborated with acclaimed director Sebastian Leilo, composing the scores for the Academy Award-winning “A Fantastic Woman” and the recent “Gloria Bell.” Herbert has performed around the world, from the Sydney Opera House to the Hollywood Bowl, in various guises: as a solo artist, as a DJ and with a host of musicians, including his own 18-piece big band.
"The Cave is one of the most necessary films of the year. As events unfold in the news, it is also perhaps the most timely."
THE DAILY BEAST
"I've rarely seen a more inspiring figure in a movie."
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
"It's a beautifully shot documentary that's as stunning as the images are harrowing."
"A moving, beautifully humanistic story whose inevitable hardships are laced with real hope and levity."
"A compelling picture of compassion, grit, and feminist righteousness."
"Miraculous...A standout. Feras Fayyad's powerful portrait audaciously puts women's imperative contribution to survival front and center."
"Emotionally moving... extraordinary visual grace... both intensely real and a carefully wrought work of cinema."
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
"Look no further than The Cave for a portrait of true heroism. Provides astonishingly immediate and gripping footage of the collective effort to survive. The Cave ranks among the best of films to portray the tragedy of the Civil War in Syria and the resilience of the everyday people who keep the spirit of the nation alive"
"Gripping. Unprecedented. A real-time thriller...Fayyas excels at finding small moments that take on poetic resonance."
"Gripping. It will stick with you long after you leave the theater. It is as moving as it is possible for a film to be."
How can you help create lasting and meaningful change?
READ DR. AMANI'S PLEA FOR HELP
Dr. Amani shares her personal account of the ongoing human rights abuses in Syria.
DOWNLOAD A FREE DISCUSSION GUIDE
Use this custom-developed Discussion Guide to help your students or community group engage in meaningful dialog around the topics featured in the film. Additional resources support deeper learning, and help further the conversation beyond the classroom or screening room setting.
LEARN ABOUT THE AL AMAL “HOPE” FUND
Dr. Amani’s story illuminates the unthinkable working conditions and heroism of Syrian medical workers. It is the hope of the film’s director Feras Fayyad, that “The Cave” will urge the global community to develop mechanisms that protect medical workers and sustain health care in Syria. Through the efforts of Danish Documentary and Think-Film Impact Production, the King Baudouin Foundation has launched the “Al Amal” (Hope) Fund. This fund aims to equip Dr. Amani with the support and tools required to aid Women’s empowerment, female leadership in conflict zones, improved and safer access to medicines as well as help educate and mentor young children in Syria. For more information, please visit the Al Amal Fund.
SIGN THE PETITION FOR TRUTH
The general public cannot become numb to the human rights atrocities occurring in conflict zones around the world. The personal journey of Dr. Amani and her fellow doctors in “The Cave” showcases the need to champion those unknown defenders of human rights. The Petition for Truth sheds light on the ongoing truth of violence faced by innocent victims on the ground in Syria. This petition recognizes the unwavering efforts of female humanitarian/health workers and calls for investment and access to medicines through development policies and the basic right to life. Sign the Petition for Truth and #StandWithDrAmani.
VISIT THESE ORGANIZATIONS FOR MORE INFORMATION AND RESOURCES
DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS
INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MIGRATION
KING BAUDOUIN FOUNDATION
PHYSICIANS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
SYRIAN AMERICAN MEDICAL SOCIETY
Directed by Feras Fayyad
Produced by Kirstine Barfod
Produced by Sigrid Dyekjær
Written by Alisar Hasan, Feras Fayyad
Cinematography by Muhammed Khair Al Shami, Ammar Suleiman, Mohammed Eyad
Edited by Per K. Kirkegaard, Denniz Göl Bertelsen
Music by Matthew Herbert
Supervising Sound Editor and Sound Designer Peter Albrechtsen, MPSE
Re-recording Mixers Lars Ginzel, Tim Nielsen
Executive Producer Carolyn Bernstein
Executive Producer Ryan Harrington
Executive Producer Matt Renner