Review: For Sama, a harsh but necessary eye-opener

For Sama will grab you, shake you around and show you the true horrors of daily life in civil war in Syria’s second biggest city Aleppo.

Written by: Jelle Voort

Ever since the beginning of the uprising against the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in 2011, there’s been plenty of stories on the protests that have become an ongoing civil war. It’s now been nine years since the start of the war and the conflict was in the news daily for all of them. After all this time you might unwillingly catch yourself getting a bit desensitized to the tragedies unfolding in the Middle-Eastern country. Waad al-Kateab’s documentary For Sama will wake you right up from this desensitization.

All of the documentary is filmed on Waad’s small digital camera. This gives the film a more personal feel at times, as if you’re watching a family home video. These probably won’t be the first images you’ll see from the Syrian battlegrounds, but they sure will be the first to make you feel you’re almost part of the conflict yourself.

About the director
The 29-year old Waad al-Kateab is a Syrian activist and filmmaker from Aleppo. After fleeing the city in 2016 she worked together with the English filmmaker Edward Watts, to produce her documentary For Sama. The film is addressed to her young daughter Sama to show her the willingness of the Syrian people to fight for a better future for the country. The documentary was nominated for the Oscar for best documentary, won a BAFTA for best documentary and also won several other prestigious awards.

As the documentary starts, you’ll get a first taste of the distress the people in Syria are constantly facing. In the first images there’s Sama, Waad’s young daughter to whom the whole documentary is addressed. Seconds later there’s a big bang and a lot of smoke: the hospital that Waad’s husband Hamza set up has been hit by a tank shell. People are screaming and Waad is desperately trying to find out where her daughter is. This scene alone shows the thin line between trying to maintain somewhat of a ‘normal’ life during the war, and the total panic and chaos that surrounds this daily life constantly.

The film is an emotional rollercoaster; of course, the emotions you as the viewer will face are no match for the fear and tragedies the Syrian people have endured, but as the film goes on, it feels like you’re living with them, between hope and fear. It shows the true determination of the Syrian people to topple their dictator and give their children a brighter future. The will to keep fighting and to keep their revolution going is very impressive. Even when Waad and her husband Hamza visit their parents in Turkey, they still decide to go back to their hospital in Aleppo when they hear the city is under siege and might be closed off. Even though their parents advise them not to take Sama back to the Syrian city, they decide to take her back with them to the hospital.

When they arrive all their friends and hospital staff are happy to see the couple, but they’re even more happy to see little Sama. Or as Waad says it: “It was as if you were the daughter of this whole hospital.” And that’s exactly what Sama represents, for these people and for those watching the film; she’s this small bundle of hope in a heart wrenching and bloody conflict.