For Sama (Review) – The horror of war and strength of humanity

Capturing the horror of a war where crimes against humanity have and are still taking place. Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts ‘For Sama’ is documentary the whole world needs to watch; a world that has largely stood by as millions of people have suffered and died in Syria. While increasing global populism and nationalism have closed doors to those fleeing a brutal, complex and horrifying war.

In a world of 24 hour news, we have all become conditioned to scenes of destruction and death. Our eyes blinded by constant coverage, our ears deafened by relentless sound bites and headlines. It is therefore rare that a documentary film manages to shake us out of our 24 hour news loop coma. However, ‘For Sama’ does just that by mixing the journalism of war and suffering with the humanity of hope, selfless compassion and reflection. Providing the world with a documentary that shakes the individual to their core, asking them to understand the horror of war and the strength of life in the midst of pain and suffering.

For Sama mixes the urgency of front line war journalism with a truly intimate and emotional memoir of a mother questioning the world into which her child has been born. Documenting Aleppo during the period 2012 – 2016. The youthful hopes for a new Syria clashing with the brutal and destructive forces of the Assad regime. Waad al-Kateab’s life changing as she marries Hamza (a doctor in Aleppo) and gives birth to their daughter (Sama) in the midst of her cities destruction. The humanity of her husband’s unflinching mission to treat the civilians of war interfacing with her own need to share the horrors of life in Aleppo with the world. Their footage and actions screaming for a world to listen and act; the only answer coming in the form of further bombing and destruction.

For Sama (Channel 4 News/ITN)

Through the destruction of an ancient city and the mounting bodies of those whose only misfortune was hope and birthplace. For Sama also shows the strength of the human will to live in the face of war. The belief in humanity and need to protect it at all costs, interfacing with mindless horror of barrel and cluster bombs. The stolen innocence of childhood reflected in the eyes of the young. While adults question their own hope and belief in a world that has forsaken them and their children.

Revolutions and wars are of course complex and multi-layered in origin and politics. The Syrian war itself becoming a stage for many political beliefs and radical groups. For Sama does not attempt to unpick every aspect of the Syrian War. This is a documentary focusing on people and place; never attempting to speak for everyone in a vast and complex conflict. However, it does document a regime of brutality and war crimes. A regime that was committing heinous acts of torture and murder before war started, continuing its brutality unchallenged as a world looked on.

For Sama is not an easy watch, but ultimately reminds us of the importance and bravery of journalism in war. The need for personal stories to be heard by the world, and the risks of voices being lost in the midst of nationalism. Where countries build walls between them instead of bridges of communication and hope.

Searing itself into your mind, this is documentary filmmaking at its most visceral. Reflecting back to us all the hope of change and brutal destruction of oppression. In a world where 24 hour news is becoming drama rather than reality. For Sama asks us to wake up to the humanity we all hold dear, and the fragility of freedom and hope.

Director: Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts

With: Waad al-Kateab, Hamza al-Kateab, Sama al-Kateab

Channel 4 News / ITN / PBS America (2019)