SXSW Film Review: For Sama

Life and death in war-torn Syria’s last hospital

Be warned: For Sama may be the most difficult film you’ll ever watch, as 26-year old female Syrian filmmaker Waad al-Kateab turns her camera on the last functioning hospital in East Aleppo in this chilling documentary that shows the true human cost of Syria’s civil war.

The title references her daughter, fathered by one of the doctors in the midst of the resistance. Sama becomes a symbol of hope for the medical activists as they treat a relentless wave of civilians caught in the crossfire of Russian airstrikes.

There are moments in the film you can’t unsee. The constant rattle of bomb blasts becomes a character itself. Children drag in their dying friends caked in ash and streaked with blood. Mothers carry their dead sons through the streets. In the most gripping scene, volunteer doctors perform a C-section on a woman caught in an explosion, pulling out her unconscious child. I’m happy to report a spoiler: Miraculously, both the child and mother lived.

Between the cover-your-eyes scenes, of which there are many, al-Kateab captures a wealth of gallows humor that shows how commonplace the chaos has become in the region and the resilience of the Syrians working to save their country. At several points, al-Kateab’s family faces a choice of whether to flee, ultimately staying in Aleppo until the last possible moment. The film closes with a voice-over from the filmmaker explaining that she fought so that Sama’s children won’t have to live the same struggle. The more people who see this film, the less likely it is that they will have to endure what Sama’s generation has.

For Sama

Documentary Feature Competition, World Premiere

Tuesday, March 12, 5pm, Alamo South Lamar A
Wednesday, March 13, 6:30pm, Alamo South Lamar B

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SXSW 2019, SXSW Film 2019, For Sama, Syrian Civil War, Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts

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