For Sama is a heart-breaking call to action
For Sama is a heart-breaking documentary that chronicles a uniquely female perspective of war that is often overlooked. Images of murdered women and children are used by the media to incite shock and outrage, but those victims stories are rarely explored. Waad Al-Khateab and Edward Watt’s film documents the intimate spaces that are affected by prolonged conflict, and while there are images that are very hard to watch, audiences owe it to the people of Syria to, at the very least, bear witness.
This documentary spans five years of Waad’s life as she lived in Aleppo during the uprising. In that span of time, we see her fall in love, marry, and give birth to her daughter Sama, all while documenting the war around her. Even seemingly quiet moments are oftentimes interrupted by the sudden and very loud booms and cracks of bomb drops and missile fires, which left me thinking that the stress of the noise alone would be enough to kill me. As the film progressed, I had a near Pavlovian response to those sounds. A bomb or missile pop meant I would be seeing bodies soon. When Waad and her husband Hamza, a doctor, end up operating the only hospital in the free part of Aleppo, Waad films the lifeless bodies of men, women, and most of all, children, who are rushed in from the street by their terrified family members. As Hamza and his dedicated team work on the victims, Waad turns her camera to the family, in one case, two boys, who brought their younger brother in after a missile hit their home. They sit crouched in the hallway, tears streaming down their faces, as Waad asks what happened. We already know of course, but there’s power in the boys being able to tell the story about how their brother died. That he was just playing in the front yard when the missile struck. That his brothers’ cries for him to come in the house came a second too late.
Waad doesn’t shy away from the death that surrounds her, but she takes great pains to also document life. Whether it’s her daughter, Sama, who she speaks to in voiceover during much of the film’s duration, her wedding day, the garden in her home, or the laughter of friends who also decided to stay behind to fight for their home. Waad’s interviews with her friends’ children are some of my favorite parts of the film. The honesty, fear, and courage in face of that fear, is not something you see often or ever in war documentaries. It’s clear that they garner strength from their parents sacrifices and convictions. And as a document for her daughter, it’s also important to include the voices and opinions of children. It may be hard for us to understand why parents would put their children at risk, but Waad, Hamza, their friends, and colleagues would argue that there is more at stake then just their lives. And it’s something that their children need to witness with their own eyes, understand with their hearts, and be able to explain in their own words.
It’s hard to watch the optimism of Waad and her friends soon fade once they realize that there will be no victory against the regime, at least not now, and not for them. They all had to make the difficult choice put before them, a choice that even now is hard for them to reconcile. But this video document, for Sama, encompasses all she will need to know about her parents home, the place she was born, and had to leave so young. That when Aleppo was attacked, it was loved and defended by it’s people who never gave up without a fight. There’s a beautifully terrifying moment, when an injured woman is brought to the hospital nine months pregnant. Her baby is delivered via emergency cesarean and is lifeless. After several absolutely agonizing minutes of the doctors trying to stimulate this baby to life, his eyes just pop open. He hesitates, before realizing exactly what he must do. And cries.
For Sama opens today at the Ritz at the Bourse.