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Hot Docs 2019: “For Sama” (2019) ★★★★


Why shouldn’t I be emotional when it comes to watching documentaries like “For Sama”? Why shouldn’t I be crying when there is no reason to laugh? Isn’t it normal to be angry when the world around us is going completely mad? Do we really think that it is acceptable when one part of the world is overjoyed with its life when the other part has no time to grieve the loss of life? Saying this does not mean we all have to leave aside our comfortable life and join a group of people collectively to become unhappy. It’s all about perspectives. It’s about what we see and what we do not or choose not to. It’s about the priorities we set as part of our future goal, a future many can’t even dare dream of.

A young woman has a big dream to dream. She is Syrian. Her parents would call her headstrong but reckless at the same time. Her name is Waad Al-Khateab. She enters Aleppo University to study economics. Shortly after, a peaceful revolution begins against Bashar Assad`s regime but non-stop attacks on people give a start to bloodshed and heartless killings which have no end, Russian bombs fly left and right to target as many civilians as it can. All these occur within five years of Waad Al-Khateab’s life under siege which she begins documenting for a daughter she gives birth to during the war, a husband who happens to be a doctor and an activist at the same time so we all can witness the rise of one soul that has no idea what those little eyes had to witness.

The documentary begins in 2016, the filmmaker introduces herself to her daughter named Sama. As she begins explaining why she left her family home for Aleppo, the young woman is clear – no matter how hard it is, she begins documenting the massacre by Assad against his own people backed by the Russians. “It gives me a reason to be here. It makes the nightmares feel worthwhile. When I see the Russian warplanes in the sky, it cuts through me. Yes, I am scared of dying. but what scares me the most is losing you, Sama. I’ve made this film for you. I need you to understand why your father and I made the choices we did. What we were fighting for” she explains to her daughter. She stays in Aleppo with the soon-to-become loving husband, caring father, and ultimately one of thirty-two doctors who decide to stay in Aleppo to save as many lives as he can – Dr. Hamza.

Honestly speaking, it’s incredibly difficult to move from one scene to another as the count of dead bodies keep rising beyond belief. How little children mourn the death of their little brother and how many more yet to die in a senseless war. And it all starts with dozens of dead bodies extracted from the river. All of them were either handcuffed, severely tortured, and in the end executed with a bullet to their head. Just to imagine all these, gruesome but the important images of the twenty-first century, which you will see throughout the film is something that must force to raise a question – why with so many details being revealed in hundreds of documentaries including “For Sama”, somehow the country that kept sending its planes to kill innocent people, including children, still has not answered for its crime against humanity?

Obviously, the film does not try to question the audience nor politics. It simply does what it can – it becomes our eyes and ears, it turns into a love letter to a little girl who one day will have to find the courage to watch all the footages taken by her mother, admire the bravery of her father and the lives he was able to save. And more importantly, not only Sama, but the viewers as well will have to make an unforgettable and full of terror journey to witness the two sides of humanity – one that is worse than any dangerous creature and the other one that will show its best kind, showcase its utmost important quality – the quality we are built upon but some choose to disregard.

In conclusion, I can’t promise you won’t cry throughout this socially important piece of documentary. This film is like an eye to a reality that should not have existed in the first place. This film is about how many children could not live a minute longer, the mothers that buried their little ones before their time, and the entire city that was destroyed for the sake of power. Films like “For Sama” is important for generations to come to learn the ugly past and try to avoid it at any cost. Sadly, as I sit and look back at what happened during previous wars, it seems we’re all gonna repeat ourselves because one fact is clear – we humans have no clue how to learn from past mistakes, and based on what we see, have no intentions of doing that.

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