Directors: Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts
For Sama is a gift from a mother (director Waad al-Kateab) to her daughter Sama. It traces her life through five years of the uprising in Aleppo. But as much as being a documentary about the conflict it is also a personal testimony, including how she falls in love with Hamza, a doctor dealing daily with death and destruction, their marriage and the birth and early years of Sama.
Waad’s camera is completely candid and never shies away from the blood and guts of those massacred by the Bashar al-Assad regime and its Russian accomplices. Many would have given up the struggle to survive against all odds but Waad and Hamza take on their roles as journalist and doctor in the cause of freedom.
There is a stark contrast between the innocence and naiveté of Sama against the life-wrecking bombardment of the city under siege. But also many of the children filmed seem to have grown up at a pace beyond their years, taking as normal what any outsider would find traumatic beyond repair.
The use of shifting timescales works well as does the element of diary form as this adds to the humanity and intimacy of the film as opposed to more clinical and cold news coverage. Another novel and important aspect of the movie is that it sees the conflict from a female perspective as opposed to the more misogynistic manner of many war films, fact or fiction.
Waad goes from supporting the utopian vision of the revolution to simply being obliged to stay in Aleppo for love of the city and its inhabitants. Many of the scenes are so bloody and gritty that they would not appear without warning on television coverage, even though Channel 4 took the risk to broadcast it.
The hospital faces continuous bombardment with the shells getting closer and closer week by week. The understaffing and lack of equipment and medication is heart-breaking and the sense of tragic and seemingly pointless loss pervades throughout. But one of the main thrusts of Waad’s narrative is that it was all worth it and if she had to live out her actions again she would without regret.
This is a compelling film that is as absorbing for the risks it takes in filming in such a dangerous war zone as it is riveting for its personal and intimate content.
Reviewed on 15 January 2020