Opening March 5, 2020
Directed by: Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts
Writing credits: Documentary
Principal actors: Waad Al-Kateab, Hamza Al-Khateab, Sama Al-Khateab
Director Waad Al-Khateab’s film is a journal of love for Sama, recording her daughter’s first year on earth. She tells about university days, knowing then loving Hamza (Sama’s father), and the spring of hope, and autumn of despair when fear and death seemed endless. Until, ultimately they escaped from Sama’s birthplace. Aleppo. 2016.
Rewind to 2012: the hopeful Arab Spring swept the country carrying people of all ages into streets, only to be rebuffed and buffeted. The dictator, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and regime, and a Russian autocrat ally, politician/President Vladimir Putin, viciously fight back. Under siege, Aleppo’s citizens struggle to survive; Hamza, a doctor, stays and when all hospitals are destroyed helps setup a volunteer hospital. This is where journalist-documentarian Waad captures unimaginable, unforgettable images; seen outside are body bags lining streets, people running for cover as bombs rain down, and children playing in a burnt-out bus.
As Waad’s camera, disposed to compassion, records, locals seem anesthetized to sharing their grief with us unknown strangers. Commitment and awareness are translated to harsh images, especially those of children whose childhood, if not lives, have been stolen. Given asylum in England, Waad teamed up with filmmaker Edward Watts. Nainita Desai’s music is good; flummoxing is Chloe Lambourne and Simon McMahon’s clumsy editing: in the many flashbacks confusion between present and past stems from similarities in the visual tonality. Moreover, some imagery loses its impact from overuse. Too long at 95 minutes, the film seems to reproach international communities for not doing more. Furthermore, Waad’s story is sometimes perplexing, e.g., why not leave Sama safe in Turkey when they had the chance.
A Channel 4 News and ITN Productions work for Channel 4 und PBS Frontline, the directorial team’s awards include an Emmy, BAFTA, and others while creating awareness of Aleppo’s continuing atrocities. In Arabic sama means “sky;” the Al-Khateabs’ say they will return when they can live in freedom—“an awesome word,” under the Syrian sky. We will see. That, naturally, depends on the wiles of politicians. OmdtU/original language with German subtitles (.)