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For Sama

Director Waad Al-Kateab made a film about her daughter Sama so she‘ll be able to remember the Syria that Al-Kataeb left and so her daughter will be able to see and perhaps understand why she wanted to stay but ultimately did flee.


The film works as an apology or an explanation, like an old letter with “For Sama“ written on it, the same Sama who might see it herself in many years, if she wants to. Waad Al-Kateab made this movie for her daughter so she‘ll be able to remember the Syria that Al-Kataeb left and so her daughter will be able to see and perhaps understand why she wanted to stay but ultimately did flee.

Most words seem inappropriate, small, and misplaced in the face of the images that Al-Kateab filmed in her city Aleppo for years. She moved to the north Syrian city to study. The peaceful revolution broke out in 2012, Al-Kateab took part in it with her fellow students and documented it with her handheld camera. In time jumps we are able to see how the situation changed over the years. There are burning cars in the protest march, Aleppo comes under fire and there‘s a long siege in 2016.

Al-Kateab, who reported from Aleppo for Channel 4 and now lives in London, assembled her film from around 300 hours of material with Edward Watts. She is in a different role here: the film is personal, a devastating document of war and destruction, but most of all it‘s a document of her life, with her husband and daughter in their home. The small family lived in a hospital in east Aleppo which Hamza Al-Kateab, the filmmaker‘s husband, built and managed as the last intact hospital in the area. There are also moments that don‘t appear in the news in the middle of all the death and suffering: dinner with the neighbors, a snowball fight between the ruins, and the joy of someone bringing persimmons. The question always looms: what examples do we want to give our children? And does fleeing Syria or staying in the country mean being a bad role model?

Al-Kateab tells the story of FOR SAMA herself, in the chronology of her daughter‘s life which she keeps addressing: she talks about the dictatorship of the Assad family, which has existed since “your grandfather was 10 years old.“ The filmmaker can occasionally be seen: she films herself working at her computer, in the outside car window, or in their apartment – but her camera is rarely not with her. The images of her wedding and Sama‘s birth, moments of hope, are filmed by others. But it is almost always Al-Kateab‘s voice and breath which accompany the images of exploding bombs, smoke clouds, and conversations. When Al-Kateab says she doesn‘t want to admit to being scared of suffocating in Aleppo, she shares these thoughts to her audience years later.

FOR SAMA is also a document of a state of emergency during Aleppo‘s seige. In the worst scene, children are taken to the hospital after bomb attacks and a stunned doctor says “children have nothing to do with this.“ Sama spends her first year in a room of this hospital, lives end and begin around her. The awful parallelism and the entire film can only be endured because Al-Kateab is telling a story, a love story, because the audience and the filmmaker have to hang on to it.

Sama‘s parents know what they‘re fighting for and why they, like many others, stayed for so long. It‘s also important that the film reminds us that the war isn‘t over – an appeal to those who are in danger of forgetting that. Sama‘s name means sky, one with sun, clouds, and birds and without war planes, explains Al-Kateab. FOR SAMA is both: a film for her daughter and a film for peace.

Lili Hering

Translation: Elinor Lewy


Grossbritannien/Syrien 2019, 95 min
Language: Arabic, English
Genre: Documentary
Director: Waad Al-Khateab, Edward Watts
DOP: Waad Al-Khateab
Montage: Chloe Lambourne, Simon McMahon
Music: Nainita Desai
Distributor: Filmperlen
FSK: 16
Release: 18.06.2020




  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles

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