This powerful documentary engages the audience in the horrors of the Syrian Civil War and the Siege of Aleppo.
Syrian refugees have been fleeing their homes since the country’s Civil War began in 2011. To the outside world, endless news from the Middle East makes following the conflict difficult to really understand. Because of this, many have turned their backs on refugees. Coverage of extremist groups and the publication of propaganda has taken focus away from the civilian experience in Syria. In For Sama, filmmakers Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts use footage captured by al-Kateab to bring the human experience of siege in Aleppo back to the forefront.
War and Destruction Through the Eyes of a Mother
Winner of Best Documentary (L’Œil d’Or, The Golden Eye) at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, Frontline’s For Sama follows al-Kateab, a journalist, and her husband Hamza, a doctor, as they attempt to save lives and stay alive in the besieged city of Aleppo. Flashbacks to a time before the violence of the war, al-Kateab attempts to come to grips the new reality. In the span of 4 years, she has fallen in love, gotten married, and had a child, Sama. With walls literally falling in upon her and Hamza, they must choose to stay in their home or protect their child. Their choice to stay in Aleppo proves their dedication to their home. But it also tests their mental, physical, and emotional strength to a new extreme.
Scenes captured in Hamza’s hospital in Aleppo show the brutal nature of war. It also brings to light the humanitarian crisis that faces the civilians that have chosen to stay in their home. Day by day, dozens of bombs and missiles are dropped on Aleppo. And day by day, Hamza and his team work to save the hundreds of civilians wounded in the attacks. Al-Kateab diligently records the tragic nature of their work, the heart-wrenching reality of watching loved ones die, all in the hopes of getting international attention. Always at the forefront of her narration, though, is the safety of her daughter Sama.
The Directors’ Motivations in making the film
Following the screening, the directors took questions about the film.
Moderator: What sort of connection did you have to the world outside of Syria and what did you feel the perception from the outside world was?
Waad al-Kateab: We created a lot of relationships with international media. It was more about fighting the channels that had a lot of propaganda. We believed that the media would be a way to reach outside and tell people what was going on, but also knew that there could be misunderstandings. When the media would talk about ISIS, people would maybe think about us. What we hoped to do with the movie is not just [to show] that we were fighting for our lives, but to make the civilians in the film relatable. They are not people coming from another planet. They are just human beings trying to live their life.
Moderator: Did you ever think about putting the camera down and getting to a safe place?
Waad al-Kateab: This is normal life, but now we’ve adjusted to not knowing if you’ll be next or how much time you have. By capturing that last minute you feel that you are doing something important. I wasn’t going into super risky places, but life was just risky and it was normal to see what I captured.
Some audience members asked about the footage and the collaboration between al-Kateab and Watts.
Ed Watts: The film is actually only 10% of the footage Waad captured, and only shows 10% of the horror that was actually there. But we don’t want to shield our audiences because by doing that we are shielding them from the reality. We wanted to show enough so they knew what really happened, and what is still happening.
Waad al-Kateab: There were 7 other hospitals, and we only filmed in one. But we know that the same destruction happened all over Aleppo.
Other audience members wanted to know how the public could help.
Waad al-Kateab: We need to make this unacceptable again to bomb hospitals, medical facilities, and especially civilians. We need to accept refugees from all around. Nobody ever want to be refugees. Everyone has their own story, and there are thousands of memories that they hold that make them more than just numbers.
Hamza al-Kateab: Just don’t turn the channel, don’t turn your back to Syria. There is a lot of news, but we need to keep our awareness of Syria.
Edward Watts: If you just tell people about the film and about [Hamza and Waad’s] story, you are standing in solidarity with them and the people of Syria.
Al-Kateab’s footage and information on how to become involved in the humanitatian effort are available on their webside, Inside Aleppo.
The film hits theaters July 26.