A documentary letter made by Syrian journalist Waad Al-Kateab and her husband Doctor Hamza Al-Kateab, For Sama reaches out and grabs you by the face with both hands and urges you to really absorb the human tragedy, and injustice inflicted on Aleppo. It’s a reminder as to why documentary can be more powerful and necessary than other forms of news media. It spirits you beyond the scores of foreign journalists perched around Syria, drags you past the frontlines and into the human story of the Syrian Revolution and into the lives of the besieged people of Aleppo.
As you can imagine, the situation is perpetually dire. The fact that our narrator is producing a message for her daughter seems to transcend the idea that it’s a diary to recall what has occurred, and more of an intended message to reach her daughter from beyond prison walls, or worse yet the grave. Waad finds herself in the position of living with her small family in the last hospital operating in the doomed city of Aleppo. Given eight of the nine hospitals were destroyed by Russian airstrikes or Assad Regime shelling, every ounce of human misery, pain, cruelty and death are funnelled through this conduit. The resulting footage is devastatingly sad, and hard to endure at times – but crucial to fully understanding the scope and reality of what has happened, beyond that of limited coverage news can convey.
As narrator, Waad is courageous and generous to share her feelings of guilt in not only choosing to carry her pregnancy to term in the middle of apocalyptic circumstances, but in the choice to sneak back into Aleppo with great risk after visiting sick relatives outside of the city. She and her husband accept that their cause requires them at home, and the decision to take infant Sama along with them betrays their heads, at the mercy of their hearts. Choices with such potentially huge ratifications are rarely made convincingly in fiction – and yet courage in the face of ever-dwindling hope is on show here, and it’s all heartbreakingly real. For Sama doesn’t pull any punches, and you can expect to be exposed to the cruelty and death visited on the most innocent casualties of war – children. It’s a challenging watch.
This documentary serves as a warning for any citizen complacent in their assertion that nothing could ever get that bad in their country. News footage from Aleppo for westerners unfortunately can often be viewed as distant horrors observed safely from another world. When our own democratic institutions seem besieged by corruption, where early mild symptoms of fascist tendencies are detected, and governments are caught testing the boundaries of how they can pave the way for their own impunity, For Sama also serves as a dire warning to anyone who can dare to tempt fate by stating “That could never happen here.”