Tuesday, October 29, 2019

DOC NYC Shortlist Spotlight: For Sama

In advance of DOC NYC 2019, which begins November 6th, I’m making my way through some of the contenders on the annual Features Shortlist, which selects the films likeliest to contend for the Oscar for Best Documentary.

For Sama
Directed by Waad Al-Khateab and Edward Watts
DOC NYC Screenings

We live in a day and age where it’s impossible to be truly ignorant of what’s going on around the world. The Internet offers an incredible pipeline for information to be transmitted even from the most previously inaccessible places, and it has enabled many horrific acts widely denied or suppressed by governments or other organizations to reach a wide and passionate audience. Documenting events as they happen and broadcasting them to the world has the power to change and influence what occurs next, capturing the voices of those who might otherwise not be able to get their message out and giving them a megaphone.

Waad is a journalist living in Aleppo, Syria when war breaks out. Determined to share what is going on, she grabs her video camera and films at every possible moment. She watches as hospitals around her are bombed and friends are killed. In the process, she meets Hamza, a doctor who works to treat the many wounded people who come to find him after each attack. After they marry, Waad discovers that she is pregnant. Aware that the world she will bring her child into is a deeply imperfect one and that their livelihoods will be threatened on a daily basis, Waad perseveres, dedicating everything she does to Sama, her daughter.

This film arrives as a formidable compliment to the Oscar-winning short “The White Helmets” and Oscar-nominated feature documentary “Last Men in Aleppo,” showcasing even more of what occurred in Syria and the tremendous bravery displayed by those who ran towards explosions to save lives. Waad’s angle feels particularly intimate, as she sits closely with her husband and her daughter, often turning the camera on herself to show how she is responding to a given situation. This feels like the diary that she is keeping, one that provides an extremely enlightening outlet into her personal life and serves as a deeply important journal representative of the Syrian experience.

Narrated as a project dedicated to the daughter she hopes will one day grow up and return to a healed and repaired Aleppo, this film benefits greatly from the human approach that Waad takes, evident in its title. Waad and Hamza serve crucial functions in a crumbling, besieged society, but, for the purposes of this film, being parents ranks just as high. The footage she has assembled is brutal and at times very graphic, yet none of it is censored since, for those who lived it, they couldn’t simply turn away and pretend it wasn’t real. This affecting portrait is unsettling and moving, a vital export that certifies the reality and horror of the events it portrays.


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