Indeed, a film such as this should make us feel very grateful for our geographical upbringing, and fortunate to live in a free society. It is almost perverse that we, Westerners, watch the horrors from the comfort of an air-conditioned room, however we ought not feel guilty for having it so good either, when so many others are suffering elsewhere in the world, because – after all – our origins are beyond our control. But it would be wrong to dismiss the plight of others and not sympathise with their circumstances at the very least.
FOR SAMA is unique in its premise. It documents the Siege of Aleppo from a first-person perspective over the course of a 5-year period. Director Waad Al-Kateab is a journalist who lived in the city at the time of the revolution, and documented every waking moment with her camera and phone. She was married to one of the city's last remaining doctors and was able to film and document the true human cost of the conflict... and it's not pretty. She also gave birth during this time; to a daughter named Sama. And so rather than a foreign film crew visiting the war-ravished city, Al-Kateab lived and breathed it first-hand, and the result is devastating.
The film gives an unflinching perspective into the lives of Syrian residents whose world has been rocked by an unjust and incessant war. It isn't overtly political, nor is it religious, and it simply tells a story of humanity. Most importantly, her camera never flinches. Men, women and children are killed in the hundreds and blood fills corridors of makeshift hospitals like a surging tide. It is a harrowing, gruesome and overwhelming document that begs to be seen. As the conflict drew closer each day, and death loomed over every breath, Al-Kateab and her husband refused to leave. They began as freedom fighters and were determined to stay so that they could document the death and destruction for the rest of the world to see.
As I prefaced, words can't – and won't – suffice, and FOR SAMA must be experienced. For all of its heartbreak and loss, it is also a story of determination, courage and love. While it has us question our faith in humanity, it also restores said faith with its familiar depictions of family life in the war-torn Middle East. To Al-Kateab's credit, she never pushes a political agenda, and allows the documentary to serve as a conversation starter. Where we choose to take that conversation is up to us, but as far as she's concerned, having the world see their perspective is the most important thing of all.
FOR SAMA is one the hardest viewing experiences I have ever had but it is also one of the most humbling and important. Those who so staunchly oppose immigration and refugee intake would do well to see it, for at the very least it will undoubtedly soften their position, if not change it.
One particularly dramatic and breathtaking moment involving a newborn baby has to be seen to be believed. You cannot fake this stuff. This film is phenomenal!