Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

For Sama *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th September, 2019

For SamaOver history there have been several sieges of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial centre, but only the latest, ending in 2016, was broadcast to the world by brave journalists and activists, often transmitting their footage and interviews via mobile phones. One such was Waad al-Kateab, who stayed with her doctor husband and infant daughter in the ever-decreasing enclave controlled by opponents to the regime of Bashar al-Assad until the final surrender. With co-director Edward Watts she has made a film of that experience, For Sama, which is the most graphic and revealing portrait of Syria’s civil war that you are ever likely to see. Much of the footage is from inside the hospitals that were the centre of the little family’s life — hospitals which the Russian aircraft helping the Assad regime deliberately and relentlessly bombed. Accordingly there are many dead and mutilated bodies in this film as well as streams of blood, and one feels the terror of the people huddled in buildings as the bombs and the ceilings fall down. The great strength of this documentary, however, is the way the trajectory of the political developments — from the euphoria of the early Arab Spring uprising of 2011-2012 to the acceptance of defeat and exile four years later — is paralleled by the intimate story of how Waad and the doctor fell in love, baby Sama’s entry into this dystopian world and later a further pregnancy. In counterpoint to the bombardments and gore there are scenes of charming domesticity, especially involving a portly neighbour, her husband and their three children; she manages to remain cheerful almost to the last. One valid criticism of the film would be that there is only passing mention of how Islamist militants (backed by Gulf Arabs) co-opted and radicalised the insurrection, and no fighting by militia groups is shown. But as a portrait of human resolve in adversity this is an extraordinary documentary, unmissable for anyone who wants to understand the reality of Syria’s modern tragedy.

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