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Cannes 2019: For Sama

Cruel, Harsh And Real

19th May 2019

We see it on tv more than we would like. Footage of bombings, shootings, and war. Some feel up close and personal but most are still a “far from our bed show”.

However, the war has never come as close to home as with “For Sama”, the latest documentary from first-time director Waad Al-Khateab and Edward Watts (“Oksijan”, “The Mega Brothel”).

Based on the rough lives of Al-Khateab and her husband in Aleppo, “For Sama” turned out to become an extremely emotional, undeniable gripping cruel and harsh documentary that leaves no one untouched.

Let us introduce you to an astounding family. Meet filmmaker and journalist Waad Al-Khateab and her now husband/doctor Hamza from Aleppo. 

Throwback to when she was a fourth-year economics student and he just starting out as a doctor. Both living in Aleppo but never heard of each other yet, they’re facing the upcoming revolution, war, and siege that will grip the city for an immensely long time.

The soon-to-be-couple meet when she films the grim and rough reality of what the war does to the local people: destruction, grief, and death. He’s letting her in into his own hospital where she faces even more bloodshed, badly wounded people and more casualties than she had ever seen.

With no help from foreign countries, they decide to continue in the hope of getting more attention to the gruesome place they, their friends and family have to live in.

While their lives have irreversibly turned around, one more change is imminent. Al-Khateab is pregnant and is about to give birth to a baby girl, which they will name Sama.

However, is the war zone a good place to bring up a baby when you have to find shelter from bombs, guns, and bullets every day of the week? Which decision will the couple make? Keeping the dream alive of becoming partners or making from their loving hearts cold ones for one time?

Well, based on the title, you can guess that the couple decided to keep Sama and to try to give her the best childhood as possible. Al-Khateab and Zama obviously knew that the conditions they lived in were inhuman and filled with blood, pain, and uncertainty about the future but that’s exactly the reason why this documentary was made.

To show Sama the reasons behind the decisions and actions the couple made and at the same time “For Sama” is also a letter from Al-Khateab to her daughter, just in case, she didn’t survive the war.

Knowing that this is a love letter to her daughter make from this documentary an even more emotional, extremely up close and highly personal one.

No mother should live in fear that every bullet, blast or bomb can be the fatal one and that her daughter might end up without a mother (and worst case scenario without a father too).

It’s not only the extreme intimate story that makes from “For Sama” an absolutely must-see but it was also the way it was made. No professional cast or crew, no real director and no fancy editing process. Just first-hand shot footage and no details too graphic to show. No strange effects, no “over-the-top” scenes. Just reality.

After screening at the Cannes Film Festival, the directors and Hamza, who were all present, got minutes long standing ovation and it was totally well deserved.

“For Sama” might not have been the most well-known documentary but it definitely should be now. It’s an outstanding, tremendously touching and intense one about life during the war, hard times and fear but also about family, friends, and hope.


Waad Al-Khateab, Edward Watts

Running Time:
1h 35min

A young woman's struggles with love, war and motherhood over the span of five years in Syria

Edward Watts, Waad Al-Khateab

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