Aleppo, an insider’s view

For Sama A film by Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts PBS Frontline and Channel 4 National release (France) on October 9th 2019 Presented at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival in the Official Selection, Pour Sama received the Œil d’Or Award for Best Documentary

Director’s note

Waad al-Kateab was a young Syrian woman living in Aleppo when war broke out in 2011. During the bombings, everyday life goes on. Her film captures the daily losses, hopes and displays of solidarity amongst the people of Aleppo. Waad and her doctor husband are torn between leaving and protecting their daughter Sama or resisting for the freedom of their country.

Waad al-Kateabis the director, producer and cameraman for the film. In January 2016, she began to provide images of the Syrian conflict to Channel 4 for a series of programmes entitled Inside Aleppo. These videos portraying the conflict in Syria and the extremely complex humanitarian crisis there have broken audience records in the UK. They have been viewed nearly half a billion times online, have won 24 awards and received an Emmy Award in 2016. Waad was a marketing student at Aleppo University when protests against the Assad regime swept the country in 2011. Like several hundred of her fellow Syrians, she has become a citizen journalist determined to reveal the horrors of war. She learned how to film the plight of Aleppo residents as Assad’s forces battled the rebels for control of the city. She stayed on during the siege to report the terrible loss of life. In December 2016, when she and her family were evacuated from Aleppo, she took with her all of these images which she had collected over the years. Waad now lives in London with her husband Hamza and their two daughters.

Waad al-Kateab

“For me, For Sama is not just a film, it’s the story of my life. Like so many other activists, I started filming the Syrian protests without any specific plans in mind. I could never have imagined where that would take me over the years. All the emotions we experienced – joy, the loss of our loved ones, love – and the crimes committed by the Assad regime against ordinary innocent people were unthinkable, unimaginable… From the beginning, I wanted to testify and show the humanity that endured around us, rather than the death and destruction that kept making the headlines. As a woman in a conservative neighbourhood in Aleppo, I was able to see and tell how the women and children of Aleppo lived, which would have been impossible for a man. This allowed me to show the daily life of Syrians who were still trying to lead a normal life whilst fighting for their freedom. At the same time, I continued to live my own life. I got married and had a child. I took on so many different roles: Waad the mother, Waad witnessing this war, Waad the journalist and Waad the director. I think that these different facets of my story make up the film’s strength. Although For Sama tells my story and that of my family, our experience is not unique. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have experienced the same thing and are still living in these conditions today. The dictator who committed these crimes is still in power and still kills innocent people. Our struggle for justice is still relevant. I felt a great responsibility to my city, to its people and to our friends: I had to tell their story so that it would never be forgotten and so that no one could distort the reality of our experience. For me, making this film was almost as difficult as the years spent in Aleppo. I had to relive those terrible moments over and over again. Fortunately, I had the chance to work with a great team of people who were interested in me, in my history and in Syria. This was particularly the case with Edward Watts, who made this film with me. He knew how to internalise the burden I carried in me. Together, we were able to draw on the complexity of my experience to bring you the story you see today.”

Edward Watts

For Sama is the most important film I’ve ever worked on. I was interested in the Syrian uprising from the very beginning, trying to tell the truth beyond the lies and propaganda. The reality of what happened in Syria is embodied in the courage, honesty and altruism of Waad, Hamza and Sama. They are extraordinary people. They are an example to all of us in these times of great turmoil. In my documentaries, I have always sought to highlight the humour and humanity we share with people living in desperate situations around the world. It is this truth that will save us, not the false truths that so many peddle today. We failed to stand with the Syrians as they protested for their freedom and were brutally crushed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. This has led to many problems, including the birth of the Islamic State, but also the rise of the far right, the refugee crisis and the normalisation of attacks on civilians in times of war. Through Waad’s story, the world can finally see what really happened, understand our tragic mistakes and hopefully make sure it never happens again. It was an honour and a privilege to make this film with her.”

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