Friday, September 27, 2019

For Sama




من أجل سما
2019
Biopic / Suspense / Society
Theme: Fearless Minds
Country: United Kingdom, USA
Director: Waad al-Kateab / Waad al-Khateab / Waad Alkateab, Edward Watts
Production: Waad al-Kateab / Channel 4 News, ITN Productions
Duration: 100 min
Rating: 16
    Language: Arabic
    Subtitles: English
    Distribution: Autlook Filmsales
    Print source: Autlook Filmsales
    Cinematography: Waad al-Kateab
    Editing: Chloe Lambourne, Simon McMahon
    Music: Nainita Desai
Collaboration: U.S. Embassy in Finland, British Embassy Helsinki.
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Love & Anarchy.
Viewed at Bio Rex, Helsinki, 27 Sep 2019.

Among the many activists who have documented the civil war in Syria, the story of 26-year-old Waad al-Kateab is perhaps one of the most remarkable.

Jordan Mintzer quoted by HIFF: "A mere student when the conflict began to sweep through Aleppo in 2012, al-Kateab would, four years later, become one of the last survivors to leave the city. By that time, she was married to a heroic doctor and was the mother of a young girl, with another child on the way. And she was already renowned, especially in the U.K., for her harrowing video reportages – originally published on her Inside Aleppo website – of a city besieged by constant bombings and artillery fire, with the victims counting in the tens of thousands."

"In For Sama, al-Kateab and co-director Edward Watts have fashioned a feature-length letter to the activist’s first daughter. … The film offers up a rare firsthand account of war from a strictly female perspective, focusing on how conflict affects families, and, especially, the hundreds of innocent victims that are children."

"(A)fter watching the arresting images that al-Kateab captures, and the courageous actions of Hamza and his team, it becomes clear that what they did, they also did for Sama — a little girl born into war whose miraculous survival is yet another act of resistance."
Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter quoted by HIFF

AA: The audience was in tears watching For Sama, the first person documentary about the massacre in Aleppo inflicted by President Bashar al-Assad on his own people with the brutal help of Vladimir Putin's air force.

For Sama is a video diary kept by the director, journalist Waad al-Khateab, for five years in Aleppo, a city that was ancient already when its name first appeared in the classic texts of antiquity. It was made for her daughter Sama.

It's a war film like no other. The structure is not linear. We start with an address to Sama, al-Khateab's daughter. In flashbacks we return to the ancien régime: al-Assad's country drowning in injustice and corruption. Revolution begins, and the battle of Aleppo starts in 2012. The people who remain in the revolutionary part of the city have decided to live in dignity or die.

Al-Khateab keeps reporting and documenting everything with her handheld camera. Airstrikes, bombshells, bodybags, mass graves. The regime tortures handcuffed civilians and executes them. Soon there are no schools or medical services left. Everything must be rebuilt.

Doctor Hamza is abandoned by his former wife, faced by her ultimatum: "revolution or marriage". He stays in Aleppo and gets married with Waad al-Khateab who soon expects their baby, Sama.

One of the most important features in For Sama is that it is a record of the fighting spirit of the free citizens of Aleppo. They are in great spirits, full of joy and optimism, playing with their children, cultivating their gardens, learning ancient songs. "Songs louder than bombs". There is a wonderful wedding party of Doctor Hamza and Waad al-Khateab. "An attempt at normal life is an act against the regime".

The childbirth sequence is thrilling, moving and shocking. "The new life is fragile, as fragile as the freedom of Aleppo". Sama becomes the daughter of the whole hospital. The most terrifying sequence is of a dangerously wounded mother who is nine months pregnant. We fear the worst, but both mother and baby are saved and resuscitated in an agonizing sequence.

Al-Khateab's footage is usually handheld. There are also surveillance camera views. And awesome drone shots over ruined Aleppo. Panoramic shots also give us an epic view: there are 180° pans and even a 360° pan. Because of these startling shots I'm reminded of Miasto nieujarzmione (1949), the first film adaptation of the testimony of "The Robinson of Warsaw", Wladyslaw Szpilman. Roman Polanski's The Pianist is more famous, but the unforgettable distinction of the original film is its harrowing authentic location footage of the ruins of Warsaw.

The people fight until the end, even burning tyres for zero visibility for Putin's bombers. Until the resistance is crushed. Our family starts for the exile on a perilous journey through the regime's control posts. Even a new baby is on its way. They will never recover from the trauma. To quote the commentary: "it's a long road full of danger and fear, but freedom awaits us in the end".

JANNE SUNDQVIST (HIFF):

Waad al-Kateab on nuori toimittaja ja pienen lapsen äiti, joka jää Syyriaan tubettaakseen sodan tapahtumat kaiken maailman nähtäväksi. Äärimmäisen voimakas ja palkintoja rohmunnut For Sama on Itä-Aleppon viimeisestä sairaalasta maailmalle raportoineen al-Kateabin yritys selittää Sama-tyttärelleen, miksi hän päätti jäädä.

Koskettava dokumentti seuraa raunio-vloggarin elämää viisi vuotta opiskelijoiden järjestämistä mielenosoituksista aina hänen viimeisiin päiviinsä Aleppossa. Videopäiväkirjan lämpimämmissä otteissa al-Kateab rakastuu, menee naimisiin ja saa lapsen. Yleisempiä ovat päivät, joina venäläiset sotakoneet runtelevat kaupunkia ja lapset kantavat pommien alle jääneitä sisariaan sairaalaan.

Länsimaissa jo ignooratun 2000-luvun julmimman sodan hinnan voi tajuta todistamalla ihmisten arkea sen keskellä. Dokumenttia hallitsee alituinen pelko siinä nähtävien henkilöiden tulevaisuudesta. Nuorelle perheelle tekee mieli huutaa, että lähtekää jo tai te kuolette!

Rintaa puristavasta tunnelmasta huolimatta For Sama on käsittämättömän toiveikas. Pommien kylväessä kuolemaa Aleppon kaduille, nuorten syyrialaisten sodan uhreille antama apu tuo toivoa lähes läpäisemättömään pimeyteen.

Janne Sundqvist (HIFF)

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