For Sama, filmed and narrated by Syrian journalist Waad Al-Kateab, is an unflinching and intensely personal insight into life in Aleppo at the height of the Syrian conflict. The documentary was filmed over the course of five years and follows the escalation of the Syrian civil war as well as giving the viewer insight into Waad’s own life and her role in the resistance. At the beginning of the film she is a student activist, filled with revolutionary zeal, while by the end of the film she is a journalist, nurse, wife and mother, traumatised by all she has witnessed yet with the same unwavering commitment to a free Syria.
The narrative is shaped as an attempt by Waad to explain to her baby daughter Sama the reasons why they stayed in Aleppo despite the enormous danger. She addresses her daughter throughout the film giving it a loving and tender tone which provides some relief from the brutality of the conflict. The unique way in which children experience war is foregrounded in the film, with often distressing footage of children injured or killed in the air strikes contrasted with footage of children playing on the bombed streets of Aleppo.
For Sama is a rare insight into a woman’s experience of war and as a viewer I felt immensely privileged to watch. I was moved by the intensity and warmth of Waad’s relationships – with her husband Hamsa, with fellow rebels and particularly with her stoical best friend Afraa. The two women are constantly preoccupied with how to give their children with a normal childhood while remaining in devastated Aleppo, discussing the difficulty of finding nappies during a siege and finding food to feed their families. In one touching scene, the children paint a burnt-out bus during a children’s party, a rare but powerful moment of joy.
Overall, the film plays a vital role both in exposing us to the brutality of the Syrian conflict, which has become all too easy to avoid in the west. It rehumanises the narrative around Syria, placing women, children and human relationships at the forefront of the narrative.
Photo Credit: The Wrap