The movie “For Sama”, directed by Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts, was released in 2019, and received documentary and independent film awards in many categories, especially BAFTA and International Emmy. Waad Al-Kateab, who shot the documentary and also directed it, discusses the “inner” face of the Syrian civil war, which Turkey has also witnessed closely as a neighbor, as a mother who gave birth to a baby named Sama amongst the bombs, as well as a woman and a journalist. In addition to its historical dimension, the documentary, in which you will encounter quite striking images in psychological terms, reveals the war in all its realities and also it highlights the process that went through until the forced migration process and how insecure they feel in their country.
In the documentary, starting from Waad’s university years, a chronological order was provided by dividing the months into the surrounding months of the Assad regime. Although these timeframes mentioned at the beginning seem like only chapter titles, it is impressive to see how much the people wear out emotionally and psychologically in the process and still struggle for their country as you continue to watch.
The film consists of recordings taken by Waad, a university student in Aleppo, which started with the revolutionary movements against the Assad regime in 2010 in Syria and then covered the Syrian civil war. While Waad recorded the footage she took, in order to voice the activities of the Assad regime, which she saw as corrupt and unjust, and the peaceful actions of the revolutionary groups against them; since she learned that she was pregnant, she dedicated her struggle to her daughter Sama and voiced her experiences in a style as if talking to her daughter. Throughout the documentary, she sometimes found herself explaining why she stayed and struggled, and sometimes apologizing for her failures and what she had done to her daughter. It would not be wrong to say that this situation, by including the audience in the family, created an effect on the audience as if they experienced the war themself, with the sincerity of Waad’s words to his daughter.
Waad, who has recorded the torture and massacres committed by the Assad regime to the activists in order to stay in power since 2010, has repeatedly stated in the records that people cannot express their opinions freely and her steadiness against the regime that supports this tyranny. She thought that quitting and immigration would not bring any solution, on the contrary, it would benefit Assad to win, and that it was the most honorable and right act to stay and fight for the country she lived in and the people she loved. In the documentary, the struggle for life of people who did not want to leave their country and the city they live in, despite the despair, is reflected in all its reality on the cameras.
Waad, with her friends who became a student before the revolution and then voluntarily worked like herself as a nurse, tried to heal war wounds by building hospitals for buildings that remained solid. Hamza, one of Waad’s friends and voluntarily worked as a doctor, got close to Waad and decided to marry while fighting shoulder to shoulder in this painful process, they found strength from each other in this process and the dream of being happy together in the future instilled in them the hope that the current civil war will end.
Waad, who recorded the siege of Aleppo by the Syrian regime in July 2016 and the 6-month siege process after that, shows the audience that the people living in Aleppo do not have life safety, the violation of basic human rights and freedoms and the crime against humanity. The audience can clearly see the Assad regime, which targeted its own civilian population to prevent anti-regime movements, brutally bombing cities, and then the people being carried to hospitals covered in blood, the fear, sadness and fatigue on the faces of their relatives not only in Waad’s voice but also in the recordings. Waad and Hamza, who lost many of their friends in this process, tried to stay strong and did not give up for their lost friends.
The Syrian Regime, which intensified its actions with the capture of some parts of the city by the Free Syrian Army, started to keep the sounds of bombs from the city, and people tragically took this as a part of their lives. They know that one day bombs could hit them and their house, yet they didn’t even consider the option of escape. The idea of leaving their country behind was hurting them all.
The transitions in the documentary are very successful in creating a shock effect on people. Like, while explaining that Waad named “Sama”, which means sky, to her daughter because she wanted a clean, airless and bomb-free sky, Russian planes interrupt her speech with bomb sounds. Waad, who loved her daughter Sama while sleeping peacefully in her bed in their room in the building where they sheltered, telling her about her concerns about the events outside, later we found her perspective when a bomb hit the building in a few minutes as left her child in the lap of a familiar person, see her descend the stairs in fear and find herself in dead children and seriously injured people. We witness these chaos-filled moments not only for Waad, but for everyone there, over and over, even in just one and a half hour documentary.
While these sudden changes of emotion in the movie catch the audience in a situation where they are not even ready, you cannot stop trying to guess the psychology of the people living in that moment. Children whose parents have already died, bringing their injured siblings to the hospital, cries of parents whose children died, witnessing the birth of a pregnant woman who was injured while Waad was still pregnant, or a father telling his little daughter about the sounds of bombs outside as a game to prevent her from being afraid. These are all effects that will leave deep psychological wounds on individuals. The facial expression that can be seen as common even in children in the film is weariness, fear and miserableness.
Complaining that they cannot receive support in the international arena, Waad thinks that the only way of liberation depends on them. During this period, many people decided to emigrate from the country, sometimes Waad blamed and judged them, and sometimes she asked forgiveness for not immigrating from Sama like others. At the end of the documentary, we see the internal judgment of the people when the UN conveyed Russia’s demand for surrender and the exile condition to Hamza after all the struggles. While people are upset that what they lost will be in vain, on the other hand, they are in a situation that they cannot end by running away or healing wounds, and that they should do this for the children of future generations. Ultimately, they are accepted this forced migration by accepting this offer, which they see as the best choice among bad options.
As it will be open to criticism, Waad’s recording of the people who were injured and lost their lives in the film as they were, in my opinion, the naked display of the facts reveals the reality of the lives left under those buildings, passing what happened there beyond just what is shown in the news and the destroyed buildings. At the end of the documentary, it is quite possible that you will suddenly question yourself, your country and international organizations about how sensitive they are to this issue.
Ayça Sıla AYDOĞDU
Migration Studies Internship Programme