It is both heartbreaking and awe-inspiring to view the human experience of war and destruction in a close and personal manner. For this very reason, 'For Sama' is not easy to watch, but is certainly essential viewing.
Filmmaker Waad al-Kateab has created a love letter to her daughter Sama in the form of this incredible film. Sharing her experience of living through five years of the uprising in Aleppo, Syria, Waad exposes a perspective that is deeply personal and unique in its female approach to wartime journalism.
Beginning with youthful exuberance, Waad and her friends have a foolish optimism for their futures. Full of hope, curiosity and passion, they are determined to have their voices heard and to make an impact in a precarious political climate. Waad films everything, never holding back, capturing footage that shows the true cost of a brutal regime.
Against the dark reality of the unfolding political crisis, Waad shares moments of joy with poetic beauty, describing her wedding as an event where “the sound of our songs was louder than the bombs falling outside”. With the inclusion of these relatable moments, the film artfully creates a universal story from a situation that may seem deeply foreign to most.
The footage is repeatedly cut in a way that invites the viewer to relate to the experience by sharing many moments that we ourselves may have experienced, such as planting a garden at a new home. These moments are then shown in stark contrast to situations that we hope to never experience; those same plants being scooped up after a bomb blast damages the garden. It is breathtaking to see the destruction through personal video from the filmmaker combined with additional footage which shows the city-wide damage.
There are moments that feel as if they were included to shock the viewer; a child, barely even old enough to go to school is categorising different bombs in a completely detached matter of fact manner. These moments though, no matter how alarming, are important to remind us that this is a jarring yet authentic reality for some.
To make the experience of war relatable and truly human is vital for our understanding of this brutal conflict. Waad al-Kateab has achieved this flawlessly, and while it is challenging to encounter, 'For Sama' is a beautiful tale, ultimately about love.
'For Sama' plays as part of OzAsia's film programme at Mercury Cinema from 20-29 October.