Review: For Sama

Julie Luebken 9 October 2020
Image Credits: Watersprite Film Festival

For Sama is a love letter to Syria and to motherhood. The documentary follows 5 years of life in Aleppo during the revolution. Waad Al-Kateab, a student in economics at the start of the uprisings, films the horrors of daily life as well as the moments of peace and light-heartedness she experienced. Her husband Hamza builds and manages a hospital after all other medical facilities in Aleppo are destroyed by the regime.

The documentary focuses on the most vulnerable – the children of Aleppo. There are graphic images of physically and emotionally wounded kids. In the hospital, they go through the loss of their loved ones. At the home of Waad’s family friend, they plead to stay in Syria and remember the friends that they have lost to airstrikes. We see children during the bombings. Taught in basements for protection, hiding from the destruction, prevented from having a normal life.

The spectator sees the first years of Waad and Hamza’s daughter, Sama, who the documentary is named after. Waad wants to explain to her daughter why she chose to stay in Syria. The opportunity she has to document the war “makes the nightmare feel worthwhile.” There are times in the documentary when the ethical nature of the filming comes into question. The deeply personal and wounding experiences make the audience feel like they are intruding. All those who are filmed, however, want the world to see Syria’s pain. This is extremely prevalent throughout. Waad made the choice to stay so that the story of those that suffered would not be lost in Aleppo’s rubble.

For Sama is not just the story of destruction and loss. It is also a story that involves daily interactions, laughing and love. Hamza and Waad get married, they have two children and they want to build a family home in their native city. One of the most touching scenes of the documentary is Aleppo in the snow. There are children having snowball fights, flowers that pierce through the white city. It almost seems like a semblance of normality returned to Aleppo. What made this documentary so heart-wrenching was the fact that aspects of “normal life” were portrayed. I’ve seen the videos from the siege of Aleppo and they were horrific. For Sama is different, it shows violence and bloodshed, but also human reactions that narrows the distance between the audience and the people of Aleppo.

It is impossible to do the documentary justice with words. The documentary is a transportive experience. It brought me out of my comfort zone and made me shed more than a few tears but Waad, Hamza and Sama sacrificed so much to create a narrative for the people of Aleppo. I would encourage everyone to watch.

Watersprite Film Festival is hosting an online discussion with the makers of the documentary on the 15th of October. This is the link to the event: