OzAsia Festival Review: For Sama

A love-letter from a mother to a daughter, and a journey into women’s experience of war

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A horrifying yet heartfelt portrait of life during the uprising in Aleppo, Syria, For Sama is one of the most powerful documentaries ever made.

In 2012, student Waad al-Kateab began filming her fellow students rising up against the brutal dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad and then just kept filming throughout the subsequent siege. As she documented the horrors of the siege over the coarse of 4 years, she fell in love with a doctor, Hamza, and had a child with him, Sama. This film takes all of Waad’s footage and presents it as a loving letter to Sama, as a way of explaining to her why her parents stayed in Aleppo when many others fled. The film documents the couple’s heroic actions during the siege. Hamza works tirelessly in a makeshift hospital to treat the wounded as Waad documents the stories and experiences of those living in the war-zone.

But the film also asks whether they made the right decision to stay in Aleppo, as doing so put their daughter’s life in incredible danger, and it doesn’t give the audience any easy answers.

This work is far from easy viewing. The scenes Waad shot within the hospital, where pools of blood dominate the floors, are harrowing and deeply upsetting. These moments force the viewer to face and understand the horrors the Syrian people were forced to go through. We see the bloody and mutilated bodies of civilians, including children, and moments like two little boys weeping over the dead body of their brother brought me to tears and the screams of traumatised children and the wailing of grieving parents will haunt my nightmares for years to come.

But For Sama doesn’t just wallow in suffering and death- it’s ultimately a story of love, hope and perseverance. The comradery between the revolutionaries during these horrific times is inspiring and the love Wadd has for Hamza and Sama is truly heartwarming. At its core, this is an inspiring celebration of the human spirit.

Reviewed by Jordan Ellis

DEEPLY MOVING 4 stars

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