Oscar for Cardiff graduate

27 February 2017

CU graduate Joanna Natasegara and Orlando von Einsiedel at the 74th Annual Peabody Awards

A Cardiff University graduate has won an Oscar for a Netflix documentary about the Syrian war.

Joanna Natasegara, who graduated with a BA in Religious and Theological Studies in 2003, produced The White Helmets, about a group of volunteer rescue workers that risk their lives to help civilians in Syria’s civil war.

Joanna and the documentary’s director Orlando von Einsiedel were the only British winners at this year's Academy Awards.

They told the BBC that they were thrilled for the Syrian White Helmets.

“We feel like this honour has come from the Academy to them to honour their work. We really feel this award is recognising their work,” said Joanna.

“Bloodshed in Syria”

“The whole situation is bitter-sweet. We wish we’d never had to make this film. We wish we didn’t have to be here tonight with this award.

“But we do and so we are pleased that at least they get the recognition that they deserve.”

On stage, director Orlando read a statement from The White Helmets’ founder Raed Saleh calling for an end to the “bloodshed in Syria”.

Cardiff University spoke to Joanna’s mum, Barbara, who was very proud of the achievement.

“Joanna is passionate about giving a voice to the dispossessed, those people who can’t necessarily speak for themselves,” Barbara said.

“That’s something that came through her time at University as much as anything else. She studied Indian Religions and was one of only two in her class to specialise in Buddhism and Islam; I think studying the texts directly as part of her degree lent her a great deal of empathy and understanding.”

'Extremely proud of Cardiff alumni'

TJ Rawlinson, Director of Development & Alumni Relations at Cardiff University, said: “I would like to congratulate Joanna, on behalf of the University, for her tremendous achievement in winning an Oscar.

“It’s fantastic to hear that Joanna credits Cardiff University for playing a part in her journey to the very top of her profession. We’re extremely proud of Cardiff alumni like Joanna who go on to achieve great things.”

The film, nominated in the short subject documentary category, offers an insight into the daily lives of the rescue workers, who were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.

The Syrian White Helmets say their unarmed and neutral rescue workers have saved more than 78,000 people in Syria, but there are many that they cannot reach.

Joanna, founder of UK-based production company Violet Films, has also produced the BAFTA and Academy Award-nominated feature documentary Virunga, which tells the true story of rangers risking their lives to save an African national park.

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