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An alternative Christmas – what to watch, listen and read this festive season

News15 December 2021Lucy Bloxham

We’re not saying you have to give up watching The Muppet Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life, but now that you have time to put your feet up, here’s a list of documentaries, podcasts and books that are worth some time this festive season, many recommended by staff here at Concern.

For Sama by Waad al-Kateab. Photo credit:
For Sama by Waad al-Kateab. Photo credit:

At Concern, we are huge advocates of an alternative approach to Christmas. While Christmas films are great, we have created a list of alternative viewing, listening and reading for those of you that are looking for something a bit different. Those shortlisted link to our main areas of work and include films and podcasts on emergencies, climate change, and people seeking refuge – and are easily accessible via streaming platforms like Netflix, BBC player, Amazon Prime, the podcast app or YouTube.

To watch

Once Upon a Time in Iraq

This is a really good series on the Iraq war and the fallout. The last episode is particularly poignant and essentially the devastating impact that war can have on the lives of ordinary people, which in reality is beyond our comprehension.

How to watch it: BBC iPlayer

Recommended by Pete 


Welcome to Italy: Migrant Tales of Survival

As long as there is war, poverty and insecurity in Africa and the Middle East, those finding themselves caught in up in it will try to seek a better life elsewhere. This has been the case for years now, with people embarking on the dangerous sea crossing to reach what they believe to be better and safer shores in Europe. Italy has been one of the principal destinations. But, when asylum seekers arrive, they don't always find the life they were hoping for.

This film, created by Mohamed Kenawi, is about three young north Africans who survived the hazardous journey to Italy only to find their European dreams in tatters.

How to watch it: Available on YouTube.


Fire at Sea

Taking place at the tragic epicentre of the refugee crisis, Lampedusa, a remote island in the Mediterranean Sea, ‘Fire at Sea’ is a much-deserved Academy Award nominee. Abandoning narration, commentary and interviews, this masterful documentary allows you to engage fully in the cinematic artistry, all the while portraying the horror and pain suffered by so many in search of safety.

How to watch it: Available on Netflix and Amazon Prime.


White helmets

White Helmets, directed by Orlando von Einsiedel. Photo credit:
White Helmets, directed by Orlando von Einsiedel. Photo credit:

This 40-minute film follows the daily operations of a group of volunteer rescue workers from the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets. These emergency workers risk their lives every day to save innocent civilian victims of airstrikes and bombings across Syria. In 2017, ‘White Helmets’ took home the Oscar for Best Documentary Short and was Netflix’s first Academy Award win.

How to watch it: Available on Netflix.


For Sama

For Sama’ is a journey into the female experience of war. A love letter from a young mother to her daughter, the film tells the story of Waad al-Kateab’s life through five years of the uprising in Aleppo, Syria as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth to Sama, all while cataclysmic conflict rises around her. Awarded the Prix L’Œil d’Or for Best Documentary at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, this is not one to miss. 

How to watch it: Available on All 4.


To listen

A Wish for Afghanistan

The BBC's Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet has followed every twist and turn of the Afghan story. In this landmark series of interviews for the BBC World Service, she hears from Afghans how the last 20 years have shaped them: their dreams for a new future and their fears that the cycle of violence will never stop.

Afghans have a word which seems to capture this moment: kashke. It's a word that conveys sadness, regret and hope, roughly translating as "if only", which is why we've called this series A Wish for Afghanistan.

How to listen: Available on BBC News World Service

Recommended by Danny: "Lyse has such a long history of Afghanistan and can frame these stories from diverse perspectives really well."


The High Low: episode ‘An Author Special with anti-FGM Campaigner Nimko Ali on What We’re Told Not To Talk About’

Nimko Ali OBE, an anti-FGM campaigner whose book ‘What We’re Told Not To Talk About (But Are Going To Anyway)’ sees stories from 42 women across 14 countries on emotional and shocking topics including forced marriage, genital mutilation, the menopause and what it’s like to get your period when you’re homeless.

How to listen: Available on the podcast app.


‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ with Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd

A podcast about ideas. Former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and Sony Award-winning radio host Geoff Lloyd talk to smart thinkers from around the world, uncovering the people, movements and ideas solving the biggest challenges facing society.

How to listen: Available on the podcast app.


To read

No one is too small to make a difference

Greta Thunberg, 'No one too small to make a difference'. Photo credit:
Greta Thunberg, 'No one too small to make a difference'. Photo credit:

‘No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference’ is a book by climate activist Greta Thunberg. It was published on 30 May 2019. It consists of a collection of eleven speeches that she has written and presented about global warming and climate change.


Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun is set in Nigeria and tells the story of the Biafran civil war (1967-70) which occurred when the south-eastern part of Nigeria declared independence and became Biafra, the title of the book referring to the Biafran flag. Following the lives of Olanna and Odenigbo, a middle class couple who work in Nsukka University, we see the war unfolding around them and their family, testing relationships and resilience. There are moments of incredible brutality but also kindness and bravery which will stay with you.

The book will also give you both historical and emotional insight into the conflict which moved John and Kay O’Loughlin-Kennedy to send emergency supplies to Biafra in 1968, and later that year found Concern Worldwide.

Recommended by Rachel H


Africa: A Biography of the Continent by John Reader

Drawing on many years of African experience, John Reader’s panoramic survey traces the development of the continent from its earliest formation to modern times.  His wide-ranging and fascinating account challenges many preconceptions about Africa.  If you want to understand more about Africa’s history, its people and its culture, this book is highly recommended. 

Recommended by Peter R


Bring Back Our Girls: The Astonishing Survival and Rescue of Nigeria's Missing Schoolgirls

In the spring of 2014, an American rap star unwittingly triggered an online hurricane with the ease of a tweet. Hitting an unprecedented nerve on Twitter, accompanied with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, the message called for the release of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls who'd been kidnapped.

A heart-stopping thriller, a riveting narrative history and an incisive cultural analysis, Bring Back Our Girls is the definitive account of a kidnapping and digital campaign that changed our understanding of warfare, terrorism and online activism.

Recommended by Deborah


Letters to the Earth: Writing to a Planet in Crisis

Earlier last year, Culture Declares Emergency invited people from all around the world to find the words to describe their feelings towards the climate crisis. The response: over 1000 people wrote letters of love, loss, hope and action. Described as ‘the largest creative response to the climate and ecological emergency the world has yet seen’, this selection of letters, from celebrities and the public, is inspiring, provocative and provides a snapshot of global outrage towards the climate emergency we find ourselves in.


The Girl with the Louding Voice

Abi Dare’s debut novel for which she was shortlisted for the British Book Awards Debut Book of the Year 2021 and the Desmond Elliott Prize 2020.

The book is about a Nigerian girl who is being married to an older man in her village at the age of 14. She had to leave school when her mother died and is then being married to this man by her father who needed the money. Throughout the book, you follow Adunni’s story and you experience the changes in her by the language the author uses. In the beginning, Adunni’s English is very broken and full of mistakes but with her story, her language also develops.

Recommended by Nadine


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