This incredibly powerful and deeply moving film follows the struggle to survive and live for a journalist, her doctor husband and their child, Sama. For Sama is shot almost entirely on a handheld camera by journalist and filmmaker Waad al-Kateab, who is assisted in directing by Edward Watts. The film scooped the Prix L’Œil d’Or for Best Documentary at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, and had debuted at SXSW, where it picked up jury and audience prizes for best documentary.
For Sama studies and captures the lives of rebels in Eastern Aleppo over a five-year period. From the optimistic birth of the rebel insurrection, all the way through the bloody carnage meted out to them by the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his ally Vladimir Putin.
The documentary hardly features the eponymous figure, with the focus instead (and understandably, considering Sama is either unborn or an infant during filming) on Waad and her partner Hamza. A remarkably intimate work, For Sama charts the filmmaker’s journey from her days as a student in Aleppo to her involvement in the rebellion against Assad’s regime.
Some context would help the viewer, but is not necessarily essential. Here we are provided a vital, if one-sided, history of rebel-held East Aleppo. As a documentary it is, of course, informative, but to not feel confused trying to understand the politics or history of the conflict, it’s best to read up a little beforehand.
Al-Kateab and Watts do a remarkable job threading the footage together into a coherent, engaging timeline of events. The videos Waad has collated are often shocking and depressing, startlingly bleak. But amid the doom there is hope. While one cannot call For Sama anything approaching joyful or celebratory, and the events of the intervening years from the end of filming to today have been far from inspiring, it is an inspiring piece. Not only is al-Kateab’s project for her daughter, Sama, but for all the downtrodden people of Syria and the people fighting for the country to see better days.
For Sama is released in select cinemas on 13th September 2019.
Watch the trailer for For Sama here: