For Sama

DOCUMENTARY; 1hr 40min

DIRECTED BY: Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts (Arabic with subtitles, English)

Waad at work

By 2016, after five years of civil war, the Syrian city of Aleppo in Waad al-Kateab’s red-raw, urgently personal, Oscar-nominated documentary has been reduced to a parched wound, at once unearthly in its decimation and numbingly familiar from news reports. But For Sama is no regular nightly dispatch. Spanning five years from 2011, it follows then-18-year-old economics student Waad and her doctor husband, Hamza al-Kateab, who when the revolution begins take a seismic leap of faith, staying on in their besieged city to do what they can in the face of hell unleashed.


Waad, who gravely narrates, becomes a filmmaker for the sake of her newborn daughter, Sama, whom she treasures and fears for in equal measure. She records everything she’s able to with her seemingly omnipresent camera, juxtaposing the darkness of mayhem and death in Hamza’s bare-bones hospital with chinks of sunlight that are an affirmation of humanity (the confirmation of Waad’s pregnancy, her and Hamza’s new house, the buoyant courage of their friends).


As years pass and bombs plough remorselessly through mortar and flesh, the remaining people of Aleppo continue to dig in. And still Waad films and films, bearing witness to their ceaseless struggle, to the terrible finality of violent, senseless killings, to the weight of survival amid overwhelming chaos and to precious, transcendent triumphs. Her harrowing testimony is both its own act of rebellion and an indelible legacy. “Whenever I close my eyes,” she says, “I see the colour red. Blood everywhere… Sometimes we cry blood.”