For Sama: Essential viewing
Ivan Radford | On 27, Oct 2019
Director: Waad Al-Khateab, Edward Watts
Cast: Waad Al-Khateab, Hamza Al-Khateab, Sama Al-Khateab
Watch For Sama online in the UK: All 4 / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
Who’s holding the camera? Thats’s the question that plagues almost every found-footage horror movie, no matter how good it is. For Sama, a documentary about the uprising in Aleppo, is a harrowing, intimate journey through the Syrian conflict from 2012 to 2016 – all the more so because all of it’s real, and there’s never any doubt who’s behind the lens.
That’s Waad al-Kateab, a filmmaker who tells the story of how she married and gave birth to her daughter. That, in turn, is Sama, and this tour of war-torn, terror-strewn life is, we’re told early on, all recorded for her to see one day in the future.
Waad al-Kateab is a citizen journalist, the kind of pioneering, resilient hero profiled in the BAFTA-nominated documentary City of Ghosts. Indeed, her footage from the frontline featured on Channel 4 News, a mark of success for her campaign to bring the atrocities behind Syrian borders to global attention.
Just trying to live a normal life under Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship is an act of resistance, Waad explains. For Sama continues her documentation of that difficult, horrifying reality as the Assad regime becomes more violent, from dead bodies to damaged hospitals – buildings that are specifically targeted, we’re told, to demoralise people in the area. Perhaps the hardest hitting thing to witness are the young children making their way through the rubble with a matter-of-fact familiarity: cluster bombs and explosions are second nature to them, just part of normal, day-to-day existence. (More notable, tellingly, is the brief unveiling of a single persimmon fruit, which causes a rare, surprised smile.)
And yet among the violence and casualties, tiny glimpses of hope emerge – or, more accurately, are snatched wherever possible. We see Hamza and Waad fall in love, and eventually marry. One hospital scene delivers an unexpectedly positive outcome. Then, there’s the ultimate arrival of Sama herself, a source of personal determination and positivity that drives Waad on. “I need you to understand why your father and I made these choices,” she says, as she continues to film everything, even as chaos and explosions erupt around her. Shot over five years, and edited down to a non-stop, disturbing and hugely affecting 100 minutes, the result is political turmoil at its most personal – an intense, distressing, moving ode to resilience, family and, yes, even love. Why would you stay and keeping holding the camera? This letter from mother to daughter answers in powerful, honest detail.
For Sama is available on All 4.