For Sama

In 2011, a peaceful uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s brutal dictatorship in Syria ended five years later in a bloodbath of Russian bombs, leaving the city of Aleppo reduced to ruins. For us in the U.S., ISIS became the focus, burying the reality of what Assad’s regime was actually doing to his own people with the aid of Russian military while allowing the separate struggles to become muddled as a single event. The reality couldn’t have been further than what we were fed. Amid the turmoil, economics student Waad al-Khateab saw a glimmer of hope in the initial protests on her university campus and picked up her camera. Without knowing how far it all would go, she documented this struggle from its humble origins to its blood-drenched end. That footage has now been assembled into a love letter to her oldest daughter with the assistance of documentarian Edward Watts. It’s also one of the most important films you will ever see in your life.

When the protests started, Waad made a conscious decision to remain in Aleppo and become part of something greater than herself. Now in the role of journalist, she found herself drawn to Hamza, a young doctor who remained in the great ancient city for the sole purpose of helping the people decimated by Assad’s regime. Eventually, they fell in love and had a daughter, Sama, who grew up in a world of bloodshed and chaos. Both dedicated to their respective roles; they struggled to remain a cohesive family unit while making hospitals out of abandoned buildings and watching neighborhood children bring their half-dead siblings in for help after a bombing.

“… a young doctor who remained in the great ancient city for the sole purpose of helping the people…”

But somehow there’s hope.

Shot in real time as it happened, For Sama goes beyond the conventions of documentary filmmaking to become the best found- footage film ever made, real or not. We’re immediately drawn in by something new where the camera plays a character, eschewing the limitations of direct cinema to interact without the self-consciousness of cinéma vérité. Of course, this is only possible because the footage was not designed to be a film. It was shot simply because it had to be; the narrative came later. You can’t get any purer than that.

Furthermore, the story that unfolds reveals a metaphorical unicorn of absolute unconditional love. There’s the obvious love of the family unit struggling to remain intact while everything around them gets ripped to shreds, but there’s also the love they have for their friends, neighbors, injured strangers, unborn children, and grieving parents. Hamza remains in a place where he could be killed at any second with no financial compensation simply because it needs to be done. How many of our doctors would do the same?

“…goes beyond the conventions of documentary filmmaking to become the best found- footage film ever made…”

Unfortunately, the people who need to see this probably never will. Showing For Sama to liberals equals preaching to the choir. It’s the crowd proudly insisting that the entire Middle East should be nuked who need to see this. Maybe then they’d realize that beyond the language and skin tone, there’s a commonality in clothing, in wanting to raise a family in a nice home, in having friends over for dinner, in doing what needs to be done because it is the right thing to do. Maybe then they’d be less enthusiastic about a philosophy that celebrates the annihilation of children. If only a left-leaning billionaire could buy air time on Fox News…

For Sama will be the single most heart-wrenchingly honest film you have ever seen. No amount of acting, elite accolades or story manipulation will ever compare to the genuine truth captured by a woman with a camera in Syria. It is truly an honor and a privilege to see this film.

For Sama (2019) Directed by Waad al-Khateab and Edward Watts. Starring Waad al-Khateab, Hamza and Sama. For Sama screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival, the 2019 Newport Beach Film Festival and the 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

10 out of 10 stars

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