A&E In The War Zone.
Sometimes the best things happen by pure chance. My involvement in this film was just one of them.
I was driving to Kent when my ‘phone rang. The following Monday I was with Nick Kent from Oxford Film and Television looking at some extraordinary footage of British surgeon David Nott working in hospitals deep into the conflict zone in Syria. There was a problem; the original proposal for the footage had been shelved because of the volatile security situation in Syria; the plan going forward was to turn it into a one-hour documentary. The catch – it all had to be done in a month, ready for transmission on December 10th.
Exactly twenty years ago I was in the middle of making a series called ‘Siege Doctors’ for BBC2 about British doctors working in the besieged city of Sarajevo. As I started to trawl through the Syria footage in more depth, it became sadly apparent that everything and nothing had changed in our world in that intervening period. An odd sense of déjà vu followed me into the editing room as I started to work out how to get the story structured and how best we could use the footage to tell the world of the plight of doctors and civilians in parts of Syria too dangerous for most journalists to go to. I was watching material that was special, unique and privileged, a behind-the-scenes look that was rare even in this world of instant communication.
The footage had already been edited into a series of inserts for a possible live studio-based show coming out of Syria but with a longer, single documentary now the aim we had time to develop stories in more detail. With so much at our disposal I felt the best approach was to almost start again but in the back of my mind, always nagging at all times of the day and night, the tight schedule. We did our best to go through all the many hours of images recorded by the brave crew.
Once the story structure was laid down there was no time to go back and re-order, it had to be right. Part of the process of editing is going over the same material many times a day, honing, polishing and perfecting sequences to make the most of the content and the story. Watching harrowing and difficult scenes again and again has a strange accumulative affect but it’s put into perspective by witnessing the extraordinary courage of the Syrian doctors in this film who continue to work under threat of death and who’s moral fortitude is simply humbling.
I can watch this film in the comfort of my own home as many times as I chose. They may never get to see it.