For Sama – Hot Docs 2019 Quickie Review

In a somewhat similar vein to Last Men in Aleppo (the 2017 doc which made headlines and reached massive amounts of critical and commercial success worldwide), director Waad Al-Kateab takes this very subject, and flips it on it’s head with a very timely and personal approach. From mother to daughter, For Sama is a tribute to human connections and resistance, and the risks it takes for one to fight for their loved ones. Let it be known that the film never shies away from the brutal consequences of living in the east side of Aleppo, in which some of the innocent civilians interviewed in the film, have acknowledged and purposefully stayed in the area, as a form of protest and humanitarian aid. We see this very consequence through injury and death, with victims gored by the simulation of chaos, from both children and adults alike.

Whilst there are a few moments of levity, involving the heartbreaking innocence of children, the film always keeps a straight face in respecting the grieving sufferers of the atrocious battle, with key narrative elements at play, that are never sugar-coated or simplified to meet censorship requirements. While Al-Kateab’s extensive library of journalistic video footage, may have been too prominently used throughout the film, resulting in a dragged out conclusion, awkward timeline shifts, and far too many repetitive story beats for what the film ended up needing; ultimately, For Sama is a brutal powerful film, and a tough journey to sit through. It’s journalistic approach at a largely ignored and tainted issue from a North American perspective, is surely going to grab the attention of many, and possibly change the policies in place for international aid. Let’s just have our fingers crossed, and let’s keep on praying for a better future for Aleppo.

For Sama screened at this year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival, as part of the International Spectrum program. The film is set to screen at Cannes, as part of the Special Presentations selection on May 15th. PBS Distribution will later release For Sama in select cinemas on July 26th.

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