Review by Bianca Garner
This very intimate and bold documentary from Waad-al-Kateab gives us a unique insight into the female experience of war. Waad al-Kateab’s life is portrayed in a series of video diaries over the course of the five years uprising in war-torn Aleppo, Syria. This hard-hitting and very powerful documentary may be difficult to watch at times, but it is worth seeking out for it’s brutally honest portrayal of female life in a warzone.
“For Sama” tells the incredible story of Waad al-Kateab (who co-directed the film along with director Edward Watts), who found herself trying to survive in the city of Aleppo, Syria. As the Arab Spring revolution erupted across the Middle East, al-Kateab took up a camera and started recording to capture this historical moment. However, the Syrian revolution was met by violent backlash by the country’s ruling regime led by dictator Bashar al-Assad. As a result, civil war broke out with al-Assad turning on his own people, declaring those who were seeking democracy as ‘terrorists’.
Very early on in the film Al-Kateab meets her husband Hamza, and find herself pregnant. The parents-tob-be find themselves in a difficult decision; they can either flee the city or they can stay to run the city’s only remaining hospital. They decide to stay and their daughter is born into a very dangerous world full of violence and uncertainty.
The situation in Syria has been the focus of many documentaries, but with “For Sama” directors Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts manage to take a new and very personal approach to this story. Through the lens of Waad al-Kateab’s camera, we see the true cost of war. Life inside the hospital is the depiction of utter horror as Hamza and his team bravely stay in the city, tending to all wounded as bombs rain down repeatedly. The viewer is transported into this world and as a result we feel unbelievably close to the action.
One wonders how al-Kateab managed to find the courage to keep filming, especially when we encounter young children gravely wounded. She has stated in Q&A screenings that she found that filming gave her a sense of purpose, and gave her courage. In regards to the documentary’s title, the film is indeed for Sama, and this is al-Kateab’s personal message to her daughter, as she explains why she stayed in Aleppo for such a long time.
“There are many, many moments which will deeply affect the viewer and will leave you in tears. At no stage do we feel like the documentary is being exploitative of the situation, al-Kateab’s camera is simply capturing the reality of life inside Aleppo.”
Motherhood is presented in such a beautiful way here, with al-Kateab capturing the bond that mothers have with their children, and the survival instinct that mothers have to protect their young at all costs. There are small, intimate moments between mother and child that are presented to us, and for a brief time there is peace before reality cruelly interrupts.
Motherhood is a central theme that runs throughout the film, with al-Kateab capturing the suffering of mothers who lose their children and those who are trying to cling onto a sense of normality as they try to reassure their children about their safety. There are many, many moments which will deeply affect the viewer and will leave you in tears. At no stage do we feel like the documentary is being exploitative of the situation, al-Kateab’s camera is simply capturing the reality of life inside Aleppo.
Al-Kateab’s bravery and determination to tell the world her story is admirable to say the least. This story does indeed have a bittersweet ending, but one gets the impression that al-Kateab and her family will never fully recover from what they lived through. Documentaries and films often overlook the stories of women, and this is why “For Sama” is a must-see. The film gives us a unique insight into life in a warzone, through the female gaze and captures the world beyond the headlines. If you are going to catch one documentary this year, then please make sure its “For Sama”.