Waad Al-Kateab, a female journalist living in Aleppo, picked up a camera and started documenting the beginning of the revolution against the government regime in 2011. For Sama is the culmination of five years of footage of the conflict, a gift to Waad’s daughter born in a time of extreme turmoil, and a female view of a largely male-led war.
The film certainly doesn’t shy away from difficult images; in the hospital her husband Hamza manages, Waad confronts extremely graphic injury, death and despair head on. Everything the filmmaker sees passes through the camera’s lens for the audience to see, making the viewing experience disorientating, bloody and visceral.
As much as For Sama is about documenting the horrific scenes that are a result of daily bombings, it’s also about finding the life and hope that still grows amongst so much death, be that flowers managing to root and grow in Waad’s garden, or a newborn fighting for its life after being born prematurely. The film triumphs in balancing the fragility and magic of life, showing at once how easy it is for life to be taken, but also how resilient it can be in the face of so much danger.
It’s also a portrait of motherhood like never seen before. Waad has to battle with the example that her actions are setting for her child. Leading by example matters a great deal; the filmmaker explains in the film that leaving Aleppo would mean leaving their morals behind, fleeing only to save themselves when others are still trapped in the city. Simultaneously, the decision to stay in Aleppo with young Sama is incredibly dangerous, especially with the added fact that Hamza’s hospital work, and both Hamza and Waad’s connections to UK media are making them targets of the regime.
Ultimately the film works as a reminder and call to action to help people caught up in the Syrian conflict; the film’s narrative may end in 2016, but the war is far from over, and images that Waad has captured don’t stop happening back in Syria just because the camera is no longer rolling.
Waad’s position as a new mother during the conflict brings a unique, personal perspective to an overwhelming out of control situation, making For Sama a devastating dispatch from the front lines of those living under siege in Aleppo.
For Sama screens at Sheffield Doc/Fest until 11 June. Find out more here.
1. Still from For Sama.