The film archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stretch back over a century, inevitably posing the question of how victims, both soldiers and civilians, have been represented. The archives’ first films, made in the 1920s, demonstrate the ICRC’s interest in the visual impact of images of victims, which the organization could put to use to promote and justify its activities. By making a film, the ICRC could not only document its work in the field but also reiterate its legitimacy while reinforcing its mandate and its very raison d’être. While observing these basic principles, the films, anchored as they are in contemporary events, equally reflect how the ICRC wished to present itself as being in step with the times. The ICRC’s film-making is necessarily a product of its era: it records the twists and turns and the suffering caused by the evils of war, all the while bringing the humanitarian image that the organization wished to give itself to the silver screen.

Starting from this premise, the ICRC’s film-making from the 1920s onward endeavoured to document a major change in how the humanitarian organization operated. For a number of reasons, coming to the aid of the most vulnerable became one of the ICRC’s primary goals and reflected an unmistakable change in its operations. The organization’s activities were no longer limited to aiding prisoners of war. The consequences of the First World War had clearly created new challenges for the ICRC, which hastened to adapt its general strategy.[1] By choosing to show civilians in its first films, the ICRC was attempting not only to reaffirm its role in the post-war period but also to show that it had a profound understanding of these new concerns.

From the very first films of the 1920s onwards, children occupy a special place among civilians. In various contexts, the figure of the child gradually takes shape on camera through the depiction of humanitarian activities carried out, more or less explicitly, on the child’s behalf. As a result, the audience can more easily identify with them as an archetype of the innocent victim.

Indeed, the child is the preferred figure for personifying a visual aesthetic of pathos, aimed at eliciting compassion. The child becomes at once the image of vulnerability and of culpability but also a metaphor for hope. With the aesthetic and emotive power they inspire, the child becomes, so to speak, child-as-icon.[2] They thus serve the humanitarian cause, both subject and object of the cinematography.

The depiction of the child becomes in itself a leitmotif, moving with more or less intensity on screen through scenes that are more or less similar, despite the fluctuations of time and place. It is clear that the particular value placed on the child in humanitarian film-making, especially in the ICRC’s films, is a decision made as a part of the institutional communications strategy, to use the organization’s own language. Given that, it is worth understanding why such attention is given to the child – what visual and discursive strategies are employed, and what they reveal.[3]

Six films from the ICRC archives are particularly useful to this end: “Organization of help in favour of the Hungarian children in Budapest” (1921), “That they may live again” (1948), “Homeless in Palestine: Aspects of a relief action” (1950), “Nigeria–Biafra: War and starvation” (1968), “The first steps: The action of the ICRC in Bangla Desh” (1973) and “The story of Omer Khan” (1988).

The films were chosen for certain formal qualities as well as to respect methodological constraints around how frequently a child appears on screen: a child must, of course, appear in multiple scenes, if not the totality of the film. The films also range across a broad timespan – between 1921 and 1988 (note that the ICRC produced no films in the 1930s) – to ensure that the analysis is sufficiently long-term in scope.

Saving lives with a hot meal or a glass of milk

From the outset, humanitarian film-making has made clear choices in how the child is represented, among which the theme of food aid is central. At the end of the First World War, ICRC delegates bore witness to the malnutrition, deplorable sanitation and even famine endured by children living in struggling countries in Eastern Europe. “Organization of help in favour of the Hungarian children in Budapest”, commissioned by the Assembly in early 1921, speaks out on behalf of abandoned children facing heart-wrenching circumstances.

The International Save the Children Union was engaged to alleviate their suffering. The organization – newly founded by the Save the Children Fund, the ICRC and the Swiss Committee of Child Welfare, in Bern – operated with the ICRC’s backing. Rather than carrying out work in the field, the Union was confined to the creation of propaganda and public-awareness campaigns. It entrusted to the ICRC the money collected and the task of carrying out relief activities for children.[4]

In one sequence, a meal is served, the first of a long series of images to be followed by others. The children, standing in rows and smiling, are portrayed as well-disciplined and obedient. Their attitude suggests that they have regained hope, as though from now on, they will be shielded from a dark fate of destitution. Their circumstances are not discussed, but, given the context and the preceding scenes, one can surmise that number of them are displaced and orphaned children. This is reinforced by the film’s progression: it first lingers over depictions of the poverty and indolence in which they live. Then, once humanitarian aid has arrived, they eat to their hearts’ content and are set back on track through work – the final scenes of the film take pains to show workshops that have opened where the children can learn various trades.

Choosing to depict children massed together not only makes the viewer aware of their sheer number in reality but also paints the humanitarian response as being up to the task at hand, precisely because so many have access to it.

[Clip “Organization of help in favour of the Hungarian children in Budapest” 00:08:51-00:09:50]

Twenty-seven years later, similar scenes appear in the film “That they may live again”. When peace was re-established in Europe after 1945, it came with economic and societal difficulties. In the years immediately following the Second World War, several countries instituted food rations, and children were the first to suffer. In response, the ICRC decided to concentrate its efforts primarily in Germany, which was being excluded from international aid programmes.[5] The film was produced in 1948 with the aim of making the public aware of the difficult position the ICRC found itself in. That year, the organization’s two main sources of funding – funds created by the Swiss and Irish governments to provide emergency relief in Europe – were drying up, putting the ICRC’s aid efforts in Germany in serious jeopardy.[6] What better than images of children to raise awareness – among potential donors above all – of the lot of millions of civilian victims? Straddling the divide between documentary and fiction, the film contains several sequences highlighting the children’s distress.

One scene is nevertheless surprising in its tenderness. As food is being served, a boy takes a bowl much too large for him. It is light-hearted and might even prompt a smile, given the size discrepancy between the boy and the bowl. Here, it is difficult to distinguish reality from artifice. Was the scene scripted, or was it simply filmed by chance? The truth, being more nuanced, is no doubt to be found somewhere in between.

The scene is additionally preceded by successive shots of the entrance signs for each occupation zone in Berlin (in order of appearance, British, Soviet, French and American) and finally a banner with the various organizations involved in the relief effort. The transition between these shots and that of the meal being served further reinforces the idea that the children are in good hands in Allied territory, particularly in the American occupation zone. At that time, the Cold War had begun to crystallize into an overt conflict between the Western and Communist blocs. Given that, the sequences may contain a more pointedly political message than the simple humanitarian goodwill that they seem at first glance to depict.

[Clip “That they may live again” 00:14:36–00:15:54]

During the 1960s, the ICRC was involved in relief work that served as a turning point. Starting in late 1967, the organization came to the assistance of civilians caught up in the civil war that broke out after the secession of Biafra. The film “Nigeria–Biafra: War and starvation” was produced in 1968 as images of malnourished children multiplied, primarily in Western media, and the ICRC was coming under mounting pressure to be more effective.[7] An establishing shot shows milk being distributed in a refugee camp far away from the supply depot.[8] The queue of people waiting for milk almost certainly represents the humanitarian project of alleviating distress. The figure of the child is omnipresent; children are shown receiving glasses of milk as the narrator clinically describes the effects of malnutrition on their bodies.[9]

In comparison to food, the distribution of milk holds an additional dimension: it tends more towards medical assistance. After offering the diagnosis of nutritional problems, the narration insists on milk to save the children, as though it were a miraculous remedy.[10]

[Clip “Nigeria–Biafra: War and starvation” 00:09:32–00:11:03]

Healing the child and guarding against illness

At the end of the 1940s, the ICRC carried out a significant medical operation in the Middle East. Following the 1948 Palestine war and the massive exodus of Palestinians that resulted, the ICRC was one of the first international organizations to provide material aid to Palestinian refugees, starting in July 1948.

Under the authority of the United Nations, the ICRC was tasked with setting up camps, distributing foodstuffs and giving medical care to refugees in Israel and occupied Palestinian territory.[11] The film “Homeless in Palestine: Aspects of a relief action”, shot in the weeks following the war, shows the ins and outs of the operation.[12] A medical service has been organized, and patients are cared for as the audience looks on. Illness must be “continually diagnosed and treated”(00:11:59-00:12:00) – both watchword and objective. The narration, doubtless deliberately exaggerated, gives way to shots of mothers waiting patiently with their children in a makeshift clinic. Here, the child is as much under maternal protection as medical protection. The image sticks to the simplest elements – given the modest means, these are more check-ups than actual medical treatment.

[Clip “Homeless in Palestine: Aspects of a relief action” 00:11:56–00:12:09]

Different film, different ambiance: in “Nigeria–Biafra: War and starvation”, the viewer is plunged into a clamouring crowd of women, children and elderly people waiting for medical care. Three shots come into view in succession, portraits of mothers and their children. The images play on a twin victimization: both mothers and children must survive the vagaries of conflict. Already battered, they are without defence and even more vulnerable in situations of potential violence. Mother and child are expressly presented as passive and powerless, with visual echoes of the Virgin and Child. Referencing Christian iconography closes the physical and cultural gap between the patients and potential Western benefactors, and it creates a symbolic link facilitating the latter’s emotional association with the former.

The film transitions with two shots that echo one another. The first pans upward to reveal an elderly man with a sombre expression. The next shows the emaciated body of a young child. Their physical conditions are similar. Like the old man, the child is gaunt and sapped of strength. It is as though the child has already been condemned, even though, by virtue of their youth, they are supposed to hold the future.

[Clip “Nigeria–Biafra”: War and starvation 00:16:46–00:17:24]

Twenty years later, while the ICRC was carrying out activities in Afghanistan, which had been ravaged by almost a decade of fighting, moments from the life of a young Afghan boy were captured in the eponymous film, “The story of Omer Khan”. Ten long years of war in a distant land that no longer attracted much media attention may have served as the impetus for the film’s production. Recognized in the 1989 Solothurn Film Festival, it was presented as a documentary, or even a film d’auteur,[13] which was done with the aim of encouraging the film’s distribution on television and in movie theatres and thus reaching a broader audience.[14]

To be sure, director Eduard Winiger had not recorded the same types of shots that appear in the previous two works discussed. Winiger’s film focuses on Omer and plots his story. The pastel colours, the play of shadow and light, and the development of the narrative reflect the sensibilities of the world of children. A young actor voices Omer. Having become disabled after stepping on a landmine, Omer strives for respect and dignity. He represents the threatened future of hundreds of other children who have suffered the same. To recover from his injury, Omer goes to physical therapy. The scenes emphasize, both through images and through Omer’s narration, his courage and resilience in the face of hardship.

Omer is not the only child in these circumstances: In one scene, a father carries his son, Daoud, to the operating table. The framing of the camera – which films Daoud first from the front and then from behind – and the sound of his whimpers express the child’s fear of what he will undergo and, at the same time, elicits our empathy. The operation itself is not shown, unlike that of an adult later on, likely owing to the emotional charge the child has – the audience is placed at the same level as the victim. It is therefore not a question of avoiding offence but instead of creating an emotional bond. The viewer’s perception of distress is not, so to speak, constructed in the same way for a child as for an adult. Although both suffer equally from the war’s consequences, their suffering is portrayed differently. An adult elicits less compassion than a child, who in the eyes of the world, is not responsible for what has befallen him.[15]

[Clip “The story of Omer Khan” 00:23:08–00:24:30]

The displaced child and the child as refugee

Owing to the perils of conflict, children very often find themselves, like other civilians, obliged to leave their homes to seek refuge in a camp or elsewhere. The film “Homeless in Palestine: Aspects of a relief action”, which treats the establishment of a camp for Palestinian refugees, documents the refugees’ living conditions following a romanticized description of their new home.[16] While the situation is far from normal, the editing ultimately creates the impression that everything is falling easily back into place. In the makeshift camp, daily life resumes. The narration reviews the advances being made; water is supplied to the camp, a necessary milestone for the refugees to return at least partially to their old lives. Demonstrating this point are little girls on camera busy with the washing up. Children and adults alike have found a home more or less worthy of the name.

The ICRC’s strategy around children also makes its way into the domain of schooling. As the narration leads the viewer to understand, young people must be confined by school – they cannot be allowed to fall into idleness. Unlike in the other films, the intention of “Homeless in Palestine” is not to depict the refugees’ suffering, much less the children’s feelings. Its first priority is to show how aid is put to good use and establish that the camp is an exemplary place to take refuge. While the directing and narration may give a glimpse of the aid provided by the ICRC, the fact remains that the film’s heavy-handedness ultimately distorts reality.

[Clip “Homeless in Palestine: Aspects of a relief action” 00:10:20–00:11:55]

Moving forward in time, a salient clip can be found in the film “The first steps: The action of the ICRC in Bangla Desh”, shot in January 1972.[17] Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, was newly independent and politically volatile.[18] A violent revolt by the Pakistani army in December 1971 had killed thousands of civilians and displaced millions of people to India. The film details the humanitarian aid given to Bengalis (Bangladesh’s ethnic majority) and the Bihari minority.[19] In opposition to the almost idyllic description of Palestinian children’s new living conditions in “Homeless in Palestine”, this film paints a more realistic picture. Amidst the confusion, Bihari children, women and elderly people have been placed in a temporary camp in Dhaka protected by the Indian army. After briefly showing the camp environment in a wide shot, the camera is trained on a child. While the narration insists that the camp is a safe haven for any civilian seeking refuge, it admits that security is insufficient. Despite the military presence, one must wonder whether the children – who, judging by the images, make up the majority of the camp’s population – are truly safe. Perhaps the visible protection is simply masking other, underlying problems. The general chaos, overcrowding, squalor and increased risk of violence all raise questions about the children’s risk of being exposed to various forms of abuse and exploitation.

[Clip “The first steps: The action of the ICRC in Bangla Desh” 00:21:57–00:23:27]

Fifteen years later, the ICRC recorded similar images in Pakistan for “The story of Omer Khan”. After recovering, Omer returns to a refugee camp, where:

“Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of Afghans live in camps like this. They have been here for five, seven, eight, nine years. For some children, this has been the only home they have ever known.” (00:45:53–00:46:09)

These opening words lead into a horizontal panorama of the camp. The shot alone shows the scale of the tragedy that has struck Afghanistan: an entire people has been doomed by the war, and the children, for whom Omer acts as a mouthpiece, are no exception. But little is said of their living conditions that does not have to do with the setup of the camp. Out of necessity, the supposedly temporary solution has become a long-term installation; some tents have been replaced by earthen shelters.

Having determined that one of the decisive questions for Omer is that of his future, the narrator describes the daily reality of children in the camp, who must do hard labour to ensure their families’ survival. This is the hopelessness that looms on the horizon for Omer and the other children. The camp is now clearly identified as an unsuitable, hostile environment for children, proof if any was needed that a change of perspective has occurred since “Homeless in Palestine” was made.

[Clip “The story of Omer Khan” 00:46:07–00:48:07]

Depicting the child: Between morality and compassion

Intertitles and, subsequently, narration and sound effects accompanying the visuals are an integral part of the films made by the ICRC, adding dimension to the cinematography and helping to structure the narrative.

“That they may live again”, filmed in Germany after World War II, sketches a portrait of youth adrift. “Ruin, distress, misery”, the narrator proclaims (00:02:35–00:02:37) – three words summarizing the world in which the children grow up. Notably, the narrator does not mention the children’s nationality.[20] Avoiding any reference, overt or implied, to the legacy of Nazi Germany universalizes the victims and, in the post-war context, avoids the risk of the audience immediately and definitively rejecting them. While describing the children as the innocent victims of the war’s evils, the narrator focuses on their moral degeneration. Bereft of the usual structure of family and school, the children need moral education. Swift action is needed, short of which it will be too late. The film’s narrative may not truly represent the children’s reality, but the more sensationally a situation is depicted, the more chance it has of arousing compassion, or even generosity, in the viewer.

[Clip “That they may live again” 00:02:18–00:03:09]

Just as in “That they may live again”, there is a clear bleakness to the language used to describe the tragedy that has struck the Biafran children in “Nigeria–Biafra: War and starvation”. Children in hospital are in no more enviable a position than those elsewhere. A close shot of the body of a child in agony – “more dead than alive” (00:17:33–00:17:37) – reveals their severe malnutrition. The toddler, near death, is shown naked, as if to add to the spectacle of extreme despair and destitution. Showing the child’s nudity not only draws attention to their vulnerability and innate need for protection but also brings to relief the physical signs of malnutrition. The image is thus constructed to emphasize the child’s distress, disturb the viewer’s conscience and raise their awareness. Its strength lies in the unspoken question posed: A child sacrificed – for what? For a reality that is beyond their understanding and over which they have no control.

The powerful emotional charge that results raises public awareness in the West that the humanitarian emergency is there, before their eyes. The film encourages the audience to turn towards solutions. One cannot simply look on – something must be done. Generosity is needed to find a way out. How the child victims of the Biafran famine are depicted is not entirely free of the paternalistic strain already present in contemporary thought at that time of the film’s production. At the heart of the film’s visual strategy, Western humanitarian organizations are presented as being most capable of addressing the children’s needs, immediately underscoring the parents’ powerlessness.[21]

[Clip “Nigeria–Biafra: War and starvation” 00:17:26–00:18:00]

To step into the shoes of the young protagonist Omer Khan, the film “The story of Omer Khan” uses a filmic vocabulary markedly different from that of the other works discussed up to this point. Among the major evolutions to occur is the appearance of the child’s own voice and sounds. This change not only makes the story more personal through Omer as a character; it also makes it more expressive. Aiming to relate the child’s impressions of his experience and the world around them, many scenes are filmed from Omer’s point of view. The director-narrator’s voice is thus intertwined with the boy’s.

A question comes to Omer’s mind:

“What can all they talking be about? The war, of course. Only God knows how many villages have been destroyed, how many men martyred, or lost a leg like me.” (00:26:31–00:26:45)

The child is no longer mute. As much with his face as with his words, he is authentically expressing what he sees. Even more than that, his tone becomes accusatory. Why is there so much suffering? Who is responsible for his lot, and that of all of the other children?

With his face to the camera, Omer meets the eyes of the other children in hospital. Sorrow is clearly visible on their faces, which are marked by physical and emotional suffering. Omer’s gaze arouses pity and, even more so, calls for humility on the part of the audience. But do the victims see themselves as the viewer sees them? One question begs yet more: What is the West doing, the West which has vaunted the centrality of its own humanitarian philosophy? Are these defeated faces not, paradoxically, an admission of the failure of that philosophy?

[Clip “The story of Omer Khan” 00:26:10–00:27:23]


However it is accomplished, be it through information, education, shock or awareness-raising, the ultimate target of the ICRC’s films is the potential donor, to ensure the financial continuation of humanitarian aid. The films’ overrepresentation of the child throughout the 20th century seems to speak to a consistent strategy prioritizing that aim in humanitarian appeals.

The very idea of the image is, in theory, to transform the immediacy of filming into a striking message. Nevertheless, because the distress is continually re-inflicted, even in a kind of one-upmanship, it ultimately loses its emotional value and tires the audience.

To meet the needs of a new communications strategy, a change of paradigm has been taking place over the last decade, which also reflects the ICRC’s organizational and operational evolution. Although the ICRC still features the figure of the child in its new films to shed light on its activities, its approach has, gradually, transitioned from a visual identity showing the child in a wretched and victimized light to one depicting the child as smiling and resilient to hardship. Although the child’s suffering has not altered, how they are shown in relation to that suffering has been updated.

Other changes have been made; some practices have been entirely discarded. Two changes are of particular note: These more realistic depictions of the resilient child no longer show them nude – now, ethical questions must be considered, such as those of consent and image rights. Additionally, groups of children streaming across the screen have given way to an individualized narrative, helping the audience to identify with the child. These shifts in approach mean that the ICRC must shoulder twice the responsibility in its new video productions.

Questions remain around how the figure of the child is used in the ICRC’s film work: All of the images call on the public to shoulder its responsibilities, but is it not too late when a humanitarian emergency has already transpired? Are the images actually capable of effecting change? Have they had a measurable impact in the field? At the very least, have they alleviate human suffering?


Articles, essays and brochures

ICRC Archives

  • ACICR, B AG 062-005.05, Duvanel, C.-G., [Untitled], Geneva, 27 Feb. 1950.
  • ACICR, B AG 062-129.04, Pilloud, C., Note à l’Attention de M. Markevitch, 31 July 1968.
  • ACICR, B AG 062-547.09, Moesching, B., Note Concerne: Distribution du Film L’Histoire d’Omer Khan”, Geneva, 2 Feb. 1989.

[1] As the then-president of the ICRC Edouard Naville and vice-presidents Adolphe d’Espine, Dr Frédéric-Auguste Ferrière and Alfred Gautier noted the day after the armistice, the experience of the First World War had made civilians a priority for protection, which up to that point international humanitarian law had provided to only a limited degree: “We have however before us an equally pressing duty. (…) Finally there are the crowds of widows and orphans, elderly family members deprived of those who had been their support, on whom they had depended. Bringing them aid will be critical.” (ICRC, “La mission du Comité International de la Croix-Rouge pendant et après la guerre”, Actes du Comité International de la Croix-Rouge pendant la guerre 1914-1918, ICRC, Geneva, 2018, p. 91. Translated.)

[2] The original French term, figure-icône, was coined by Valérie Gorin in V. Gorin, “La place de l’enfant dans l’action et la communication humanitaires: Sortir de l’enfance icône”, Alternatives Humanitaires, No. 19, Mar. 2022, p. 1.

[3] The child’s place in humanitarianism is a vast topic that has been the subject of various scholarly discussions and cannot be fully addressed in this article. The following articles are recommended for anyone seeking a brief introduction to the topic: V. Gorin, “L’enfance comme figure compassionnelle: Étude transversale de l’iconographie de la famine aux dix-neuvième et vingtième siècles”, Revue Européenne d’Histoire, Vol. 22, No. 6, Aug. 2015, pp. 940–962; D. Palmieri, “El Comité internacional de la Cruz Roja (CICR) y la infancia”, in A. Alted, L. Iordache and L. Lopez (eds), Mujeres y Niños en una Europa en Guerra (19141949), Circulo de Bellas Artes, Madrid, 2021, pp. 229-236; D. Palmieri and F. Khan Mohammad, “Des morts et des nus: Le regard du CICR sur la malnutrition extrême en temps de guerre (1940–1950)”, in R. Dickason (ed.), Mémoire autour des Deux Guerres Mondiales, Mare & Martin, Paris, 2012, pp. 85–104.

[4] E. Natale, “Quand l’humanitaire commençait à faire son cinéma: Les films du CICR des années 20”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 86, No. 854, June 2004, p. 422.

[5] Palmieri, pp. 233–234.

[6] D. Palmieri and M. Meier, “Les équivoques du cinéma humanitaire: L’exemple d’Helft Helfen!”, in C. Delporte et al. (eds), La Guerre après la Guerre: Images et Construction des Imaginaires de Guerre dans l’Europe du XXe Siècle, Nouveau Monde, Paris, 2010, p. 67.

[7] It was the first film to address the civil war between Nigeria and Biafra. In the spring of 1968, the ICRC launched a public awareness campaign entitled “SOS Biafra”. The film is a continuation of that call for donations, especially visible in how the narration raises fears around dwindling supplies.

[8] When considering potential paternalism in the film, one might examine the film’s preceding sequence, which shows the supply chain used by delegates to deliver aid. Multiple modes of transport are used – by order of appearance, a truck, bicycles and a canoe. The canoe, according to the narrator of the French version, is sometimes the only means available “to reach those who live in isolation from any civilization” (translated). The comment might suggest the continuation of a colonial mindset: like explorers in a travelogue, the delegates venture into remote and unknown territory. Opinions diverged at the time of production; for example, Claude Pilloud, who was then a member of the ICRC’s Directorate, wrote to ICRC spokesperson Vaclav Markevitch, “The expression ‘those who live in isolation from any civilization’, is it really right phrase? One might ask oneself where civilization is.” (ACICR, B AG 062-129.04, C. Pilloud, Note à l’Attention de M. Markevitch, 31 July 1968. Translated.)

[9] It is worth wondering why milk was seen as indispensable to humanitarian aid for children. It immediately brings to mind the symbolism of mother’s milk. But there is no doubt that the practice was not free of the influence of connections to private enterprise, particularly the Nestlé corporation. As Daniel Palmieri explains, Nestlé funded ICRC operations during the famine linked to the Biafran war. See: D. Palmieri in collaboration with C. McGoldrick, “Le CICR et l’économie privée = The ICRC and the private sector”, 2016 [brochure].

[10] This is reinforced in another scene of “That they may live again”. A delegate prescribes school children with tuberculosis the remedy to their condition: a glass of milk. More precisely, they “will receive a glass of milk a day for three months”(00:17:03–00:17:26).

[11] For more context around the ICRC’s activities for Palestinian refugees, see: C. Rey-Schyrr, “Le CICR et l’assistance aux réfugiés arabes palestiniens (1948–1950)”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 83, No. 843, Sept. 2001, pp. 739–761.

[12] For information on the film’s production, see: S. Crenn, “Homeless in Palestine”, ICRC, Geneva, 2015: (accessed 20 February 2022).

[13] The producer of the film openly took responsibility for and stood by the choice. See: ACICR, B AG 062-547.09, B. Moesching, Note Concerne: Distribution du Film L’Histoire d’Omer Khan”, Geneva, 2 Feb. 1989, p. 1.

[14] The aim was to change the ICRC’s film-making strategy. No longer would the organization’s films have the feel of propaganda. The producer felt that it was exactly this type of film that impeded distribution, stating: “If the ICRC reaches out to distribute a film, the first reaction from television stations and film distributors is generally negative: they think it must be advertisement or propaganda. A film that has been shown at Solothurn has the chance of being distributed with the label ‘documentary’.” (ACICR, B AG 062-547.09, Moesching, p. 2. Translated.)

[15] Palmieri and Khan Mohammad, p. 96.

[16] Charles-Georges Duvanel, who directed the commissioned film, specified which shots which he strongly felt should go into the final cut, among which the figure of the refugee was omnipresent: “Views of lines of refugees, fleeing and camping, in groups or alone”. (ACICR, B AG 062-005.05, C.-G. Duvanel, [Untitled], Geneva, 27 Feb. 1950. Translated.)

[17] Unfortunately, the Archives’ file on the film is lacking in documentation on the context of its production.

[18] “Un nouveau film du CICR”, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 641, 1972, pp. 318–319.

[19] It is important to note the circumstances: the Bhola cyclone and its political fallout. When the cyclone, one of the deadliest of the modern era, hit Bangladesh in November 1970, it catalyzed an international movement to bring help to the disaster zones. A year later, the country, which was in the process of becoming independent, was far from recovered. On the contrary, the consequences of the cyclone increased tensions with the Pakistani government, which led eventually to civil war and Bangladesh’s independence. The ICRC decided to make the film against the backdrop of these two events.

[20] Palmieri and Meier, p. 70.

[21] Gorin 2015, pp. 954-955.