In 2011, a peaceful uprising against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s oppressive regime was taking place in the city of Aleppo. Five years later, the city was shrouded in bloodshed and torn by war. With her camera in hand, director Waad al-Kateab filmed her first-person account of those years as she fell in love, got married, and had children while mass chaos erupted around her. Co-directed with documentarian Edward Watts, For Sama is a love letter to al-Kateab’s oldest daughter for whom the film entitled.

The film begins by introducing al-Kateab with a slideshow of her pictures accompanied by voiceover narration. She talks about leaving home to attend Aleppo University and some of the things that motherhood has helped her understand. Sama, an infant, makes her first appearance while bombs dropped by Russian warplanes can be heard detonating in the background and al-Kateab softly singing a lullaby.

Circling back to the very beginning, the footage shows al-Kateab, then a fourth-year economics student, walking the grounds of Aleppo University during the beginnings of the revolution. Hamza, a young doctor, is introduced to the narrative. At the time, the pair were just good friends, but eventually, the duo married and had Sama.

Throughout the film, Hamza devotes his time to helping those injured by the regime in makeshift hospitals in abandon buildings. al-Kateab, on the other hand, has her eye on the city and its people left in ruins. She bears all in this film, giving outsiders an intimate look at day-to-day life is like for those living worlds away in war-torn environments. For Sama is a powerful film that everyone should see. It is essential viewing for anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of the global refugee crisis, and it highlights why it is imperative to be kind to your neighbours in these harrowing times.

Monday, Apr 29, 9:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
Tuesday, Apr 30, 12:30 PM, Hart House Theatre
Sunday, May 5, 12:45 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3