For Sama

Jan 20, 2020

An Oscar nominee, "For Sama" is a documentary not to be easily forgotten. Get to know Syria in ways that are painful and important.

For Sama

Grade: A

Directors: Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts

Screenplay: Al-Kateab, Hamza Al-Khateab

Rating: PG

Runtime: 1h 40m

By: John DeSando

“At that time, the only thing we cared about was the revolution.”

Waad al-Kateab

Although SXSW gave the documentary “For Sama” its jury and audience top prizes, and the Academy has nominated it for best documentary, it should be seen because no other work will as well capture the spirit and history of the Arab Spring and its aftermath.

You will not think of Syria in the same way again.

Journalist Waad Al-Kateab chronicles with her camera the heady days in 2012 in Aleppo when students rose up against the Assad regime and its Russian ally with a hope that was, well, spring-like. When the rebels’ fortunes turn south as Assad turns up the war machine, she and her future husband and doctor, Hamza, stay behind to run a volunteer hospital for the war wounded.

The astonishing part is how Waad, a beauty who is part hero and part observer, captures the excitement and horror while she tends to the revolution and her new-born daughter, Sama. While Hamza running the hospital takes front and center in the documentary, Waad is an ever- present surrogate for us as witnesses to the carnage.

And her perspective is singularly that of a woman, who is mother and hero.

To see a doctor deliver through a c-section a baby he eventually awakens to life, is to witness a miracle that is a metaphor for the dreams of the fighters. As we observe their sacrifices all the way to their retreat in 2016 and think of the future retreat of the US, Waad gives us the historical context and sympathy for an oppressed people whose tyrant represents strong-armed leaders around the world.

Waad’s devotion to her daughter and husband and her increasingly disadvantaged people is remarkably in the foreground of every frame, giving the audience a humane and visceral chronicle of bravery and brutality. Yes, there are moments when you want to look away, but that tells only how true Waad’s chronicle is.

When she declares to Sama, “Now I wish I hadn’t given birth to you,” the burden of the fighters’ sacrifice is apparent. Similarly, she says, “Sama. You’re the most beautiful thing in our life. But what a life I’ve brough you into. You didn’t choose this. Will you ever forgive me?”

A remarkable achievement that could win Oscar without challenge.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at