For Sama | Chicago Reader

For Sama

When Waad Al-Kateab left home in 2011 for university in Aleppo to study marketing, she couldn't have foreseen how dramatically events in the city would alter her life. The following year, after numerous protests against the repressive regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator began the first in a long series of brutal reprisals against dissenters in the region. Al-Kateab quickly joined the rebellion, becoming a citizen journalist recording Russian aircraft bombings and their aftermath, first with her cell phone, then later a camera. Her powerful images, which were carried by the UK's Channel 4, depict not only the carnage, but also the citizens' defiance, perseverance, and generosity toward neighbors and strangers alike. Life goes on even under siege: one of her interview subjects, a genial doctor named Hamza, woos and marries her, and they have a daughter they call Sama. Al-Kateab and her fellow director Edward Watts, a veteran of Channel 4 and PBS's Frontline, reviewed the hundreds of hours of footage she shot over five years, and shaped select content into the form of a letter to Sama, a sort of video journal for the child to remember her parents by. The result, winner of the Golden Eye award at Cannes, is one of the most intimate and stirring documentaries about war in the 21st century, and a plea to the free nations of the world to act. In Arabic with subtitles.

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