For Sama @ SXSW – Documentary Feature Competition Section

A film from the United Kingdom and directed by the central figure of it, Waad al-Kateab with some help from Edward Watts, For Sama is a film which is going to leave quite a mark on you. Waad is a 26-year-old Syrian woman and filmmaker. She diligently and unflinchingly for five years documented the horror that was going on in what used to be the country’s biggest city of Aleppo. The result gives outsiders a crystal clear picture of what the population of Aleppo has had to endure for a long time at the hands of their own leader, Bashar al-Assad.

At the beginning of it all she was a student at university. An uprising against al-Assad and his brutal regime broke out. They were fighting for freedom. An al-Assad had been ruling over Syria since 1971 and the people were tired of it. A reinstatement of their civil rights and political reform was asked for. Bashar refused and responded with violence against those protesting.

Aleppo was seen by Assad as the centre of the rebels. So he set about trying to crush them by any means possible. Bombings. Chemical weapons. Kill all residents without a second thought whether they were rebels, innocents, men, women or children. A conflict of any type usually exacts a heavy price on women and children. Innocent bystanders largely; they end up paying for it with their lives. This is an open window into the price women pay during conflict.

In 2011, at the beginning of the violence, Waad became a sort of civilian journalist. She previously was a fourth year student in economics. Fighting breaks out. At the beginning she was filming what was going on around her with her phone. Not experienced with all the blood and death, we hear her crying as she films the attempt of Hamza to save the life of a young boy. Films the struggles of others with the decision of whether to stay or leave. How many attempt to continue on living normal lives despite the conditions. Children still going to school. Classrooms are moved to basements in an attempt to keep the students as safe as possible. The citizens of Aleppo even have to deal with bombings by the Russians. Spirits are low, but the people do not break.

Bringing her camera everywhere with her and documenting all. She has said that this documentary is for her daughter, Sama. Showing her daughter what happened during the uprising. How she met her future husband Hamza, a doctor. Fell in love, got married and then gave birth to two daughters while all the fighting was going on. Her camera captures it all – love, loss, death, violence, laughter, and how they managed to survive.

We see how Hamza and Waad wrestled with their decision to remain in Aleppo. Not to flee to safety. They chose to remain and fight for freedom. Even after the birth of Sama. Tanks attack the building they are living in or the hospital Hamza helped to established. We see the blood, injuries and deaths which happened. All harrowing. I actually held my breath watching while a baby is born to a woman who is severely injured and his life hangs in the balance as they try to get him breathing.

Your heart breaks for the citizens of Aleppo as they are all touched by death. Young, old, female, male, rebels or not. It totally shatters when Waad wonders out loud if her daughter will forgive her for bringing her into this part of the world while this is going on. This is not your typical “story”, as Waad and thousands of others lived it. A painful, but necessary documenting of the horrors of war. Thousands have died and Bashar is still in power. It continues.

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