Last night I went to London’s Barbican Theatre to watch For Sama, a film by Waad al-Kateab.
Through her camera, Waad (a self-taught, civilian journalist), documents the lives of her community in East Aleppo throughout 6 years of the Syrian conflict, focusing on their unrelenting efforts to operate what would become the besieged city’s only hospital, in the face of the obscene brutality of the regime.
Alongside the war, she captures the most pivotal, joyful moments of her life; falling in love, getting married, and giving birth to her beautiful daughter Sama, as barrel bombs and tank shells tear the city around them into blood and dust.
The film is described as a “love letter” to Sama. In her intimate narration, Waad tells her baby daughter “I need you to understand why your father and I made the choices we did”. She films to show her baby why her parents stayed in Aleppo to support the revolution they so believed in, at the risk of their lives, and the cost of so many more.
As the war rages on, graphic, gut-wrenching footage is punctuated with lighthearted and triumphant moments; so poetically portraying the depths of selflessness, courage, and camaraderie which often proliferate from such intense suffering, all seen through the eyes of the people who lived through it. Jarringly relatable humanity in the context of an inconceivable nightmare; the film transports you into their world and forces you to feel with them. The electrifying excitement of the marching, chanting crowds at the stirring of the revolution; a little boy drenched in his own blood, his severed hand barely hanging on to his wrist; tears of joy as Waad first sees two blue lines appear on her pregnancy test; a mother convulsing, rocking back and forth, screaming into the lifeless body of her child.
I hope everyone sees this film. The images hurt to watch, but they are impossible to look away from. For anyone who believes refugees WANT to leave their homes, I ask them to watch this film. Waad’s family and friends are desperate to stay and serve Aleppo, as their friends are massacred around them, every death further intensifying their conviction. You can’t walk away from this film without a profound respect for those that stayed for as long as they could, but also for those that left. From the moment the first airstrike hits in the opening scene, to run from this feels nothing short of the only option, to stay…inconceivable.
I don’t believe numbers and statistics have the power to instil the true sense of what war means, how it tears a life apart. We understand numbers, but we don’t respond to them, not on a visceral level. That is why numbers are easy to forget, to ignore. But the image of two blood-soaked, crying children, rocking the dead, shrapnel-filled body of their baby brother, that gets inside you and stays there, that makes you begin to understand what all those numbers really mean, and that is why I ask you to please, please see this film.