SYRIA: A filmmaker begins documenting a celebration of freedom in Aleppo but ends up documenting the devastating consequences of that dream.
Melita Zajc
Melita Zajc is a media anthropologist and philosopher. Regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: April 29, 2019

Did you ever wonder what happened to citizen journalists who reported from the Syrian city of Aleppo during the five years of the uprising? This film tells the story of two of them, Waad al-Kateab, a former student who took a film camera to document what initially seemed to be a triumph of freedom, and Dr Hamza Al-Khateab, a medical doctor who joined the uprising and treated the first victims of the regime. That’s how they met. She first saw him through the camera lens, and that view through the lens remains the strongest human bond throughout her film For Sama.

Originating as news coverage

The short films Waad al-Kateab was sending from the Aleppo under siege were some of the most watched news pieces on Syria around the world. She won several awards including an International Emmy for news coverage. For her documentary feature film additional material was used, but her powerful and often disturbingly candid images of the sufferings endured by the people of Aleppo are what makes For Sama a unique expression of motherly love: An ode to freedom, courage, and trust.

The film is organised as a personal story, told by the mother to her daughter.

The film is organised as a personal story, told by the mother to her daughter. Waad and Hamza have both decided to stay after Aleppo is put under siege. When they married, says Waad, Hamza told her, «This is the road we’re taking. It’s a long road full of danger and fear. But freedom waits for us at the end.» In the middle of the bombs falling from the sky over Aleppo, Sama was born. To explain her personal decisions to her daughter, the film’s narration travels back and forth in time: before the siege, after the siege, free Aleppo, Aleppo under siege.

A political structure

But the main structure is a political one and, as such, so is the message to her daughter. Before: March 11, 2015, Aleppo celebrates. Fireworks, people are dancing and cheering, holding flags high in the sky, showing the victory sign. Waad narrates, «We were sure we would win. In rebel Aleppo, we lived in a free country. Finally, we felt like we had a home we were ready to die for. We were ready to put roots into the ground.»

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