By Alexandra Review and snippets from the Q&A with Waad al-Kateab and co-director Edward Watts
Sama, I know you understand what’s happening. I can see it in your eyes. You never cry like a normal baby would. That's what breaks my heart.
“For Sama” is a story pulled from the soul and rubble of Aleppo, as Waad al-Kateab films her experience during the uprising and shares the love, laughter, horrors and hopes of a fight for freedom during a devastating conflict.
As the credits of the film rolled up and the audience was faced with a blank screen, the room went quiet- a heavy silence that no one dared to break, a silence that was speaking for everyone; we needed a moment to breathe again, to settle the emotions and the events we had just seen depicted on the screen, to register that these were first-hand testimonies from a war zone and that we would be joined within moments by the protagonists of the story.
An economics student, al-Kateab was hoping to finish her degree in Aleppo and return home. Initially, she started filming the protests of her fellow students. As the conflict degenerated, she says she kept filming to show the fight for “something right”, for a better future for those involved and for the country. We see her with friends, falling in love with doctor Hamza al-Kateab, getting married, having and raising her first daughter, Sama.
Perhaps the reason “For Sama” is so powerful is that it brings to the audiences “not just horror, but love and humour and all the humanity that flows” (Edward Watts, co-director), making it an intimately human depiction of besieged Aleppo, from children quietly understanding that their brother was killed in an air strike, to them going to school or painting a bus, to a woman’s joy at having been gifted a persimmon fruit.
al-Kateab’s husband, Hamza, a doctor who set up hospitals to help those injured, shares that initially they felt the importance of what his wife was doing when their first friend, Gaith, died.
The cinematographer herself said that at first she didn’t do anything with the footage and thought “if the news didn’t change anything why would this (the footage)?”, then she set out to unravel it together with Watts (it took them eight months to go through all 300 hours of footage and organise it). She shares that at one point she wanted to break the camera and stop filming, as she had sent the footage to some channels and they didn’t air it, so she thought the world didn’t care.
After watching the film, it felt surreal to see the al-Kateab family on stage (including Sama), to grasp that these people were the ones in the footage, that they went through all of those horrors while selflessly fighting for their cause and helping their community.
“For Sama” is a documentary that everyone should see, it is concomitantly a testimony, a call to action, and an homage to a community devastated by conflict.
Q&A at Curzon Bloomsbury, chaired by Channel 4 presenter Jackie Long