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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that For Sama is an intimate documentary chronicling filmmaker Waad al-Kateab's life in Aleppo, Syria, during the country's civil war: first as a student during the Arab Spring in 2011 and then as a citizen journalist who falls in love, marries, and has a baby girl named Sama. The film is edited and narrated as a video diary for Sama to help her understand why her parents chose to stay in unthinkably dangerous conditions. (The answer? To help like-minded freedom fighters and civilians.) Expect scenes of intense, graphic, and disturbing violence, including explosions and people -- both children and adults -- who are bloody, dying, and even dead. There are also several scenes of the newly grieving; they cry, yell, and are inconsolable. In some heart-stopping moments, it seems like people are going to be caught or killed. Despite all of the very real carnage it doesn't shy away from showing, the film is thought-provoking, poignant, and educational for older teens and adults, with themes of courage, perseverance, and compassion.
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What's the story?
FOR SAMA is the intensely personal chronicle of documentarian Waad al-Kateab's life throughout five years of the Syrian civil war. Specifically, it captures what happened in Aleppo, the ancient city where she was first a university student and then a freedom fighter, journalist, wife, and mother (her husband, Hamza, is the chief doctor of a volunteer-run hospital). The film, which was co-directed by Edward Watts, is framed like a video diary for Waad and Hamza's baby girl, Sama, so she (along with viewers) can understand why her parents stayed in Aleppo for so long, despite the increasingly dangerous siege conditions. Filmed nearly entirely via Waad's phone and hand-held digital camera, the film provides an up-close view of the tragic Syrian conflict from the perspective of everyday people.
Is it any good?
Intimately personal and powerfully universal, this brutally honest documentary is a painful but important to watch account of life during the Syrian war. The hand-held cinematography is so up close that audiences will feel like they, too, are there, running from airstrikes, mourning the deaths of friends and patients, mopping up the seemingly unending pools of blood on the makeshift hospital's floors. But Waad and Hamza's story isn't just one of sorrow and pain -- it's also one of hope, beautifully represented by their baby, Sama. It might seem unthinkable to people sitting safely in first-world countries that Waad and Hamza didn't just choose life in exile, but they were providing much-needed medical aid and citizen-journalist accounts of life in Aleppo and felt a strong duty to stay.
Audiences don't need to know the history of the Arab Spring -- or that the fight to overthrow the Assad dynasty failed -- to appreciate For Sama, because Waad begins the narration with an explanation of the conflict and why it happened. Although she mentions how Islamic extremists tried to take over the rebellion, her focus isn't on the warring anti-Assad factions but rather on her personal struggles and tragedies, mostly concentrated in the volunteer-run hospital that Hamza runs. There are some sweet and happy moments, particularly when Waad explains how she and Hamza went from friends to newlyweds, and also scenes of camaraderie. Waad and Hamza have loving, generous best friends and neighbors -- a family of five that strives for normalcy even as their young children have learned to identify different kinds of war planes and bombs falling on their beloved city. Regardless of your knowledge or opinion of the Syrian conflict, watch this extraordinary film for a thought-provoking lesson in compassion, courage, and the cost of freedom.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in For Sama. How does the impact of real-life documentary violence compare to that of fictional or stylized violence? How much violence can younger viewers handle?
What did you know about the Syrian civil war before watching this film? Does it make you want to learn more? How do or how can global events affect your own country?
Do you think Waad and Hamza made the right decision to stay in Aleppo? What do you think you would have done?
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