Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

Aleppo documentary 'For Sama' wins top prizes at the British Independent Film Awards

The documentary, by Emmy award-winning filmmakers Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, picked up four Bifa awards

Director Waad Al-Kateab filmed footage for five years. Courtesy Waad Al-Kateab.  
Director Waad Al-Kateab filmed footage for five years. Courtesy Waad Al-Kateab.  

For Sama, a documentary shot from inside besieged Aleppo over five years, has taken the top prize at the British Independent Film Awards.

The documentary, by Emmy award-winning filmmakers Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, picked up four Bifa awards including best British independent film. To win, it beat a host of favourites for the award, including Armando Ianucci's lauded Charles Dickens-inspired film, The Personal History of David Copperfield, starring Dev Patel.

It also won the Best Director, Best Documentary, and Best Editing awards.

It is al-Kateab and Watts' first feature documentary.

For Sama narrates the intimate and epic journey of al-Kateab through five years of life in the rebel-held city as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth to her first daughter, Sama.

Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts at the British Independent Film Awards. Getty.
Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts at the British Independent Film Awards. Getty.

Constructed using footage entirely drawn from al-Kateab's extraordinary archive, the film brings the heartbreaking conflict in Syria, and the resilience and suffering of its people, to the screen with immediacy and force.

Al-Kateab, who began filming using a mobile phone when it was clear that the peaceful protests she was taking part in with fellow students from the University of Aleppo were being denied by the regime, told The National in May that her footage was “very big evidence that the people who are there are Syrians and not, as the regime was saying, all strangers and terrorists”.

Waad Al-Kateab, her husband, Hamza and their daughter, Sama, review the words they painted on a bombed-out building. Courtesy Waad al-Kateab
Waad Al-Kateab, her husband, Hamza and their daughter, Sama, review the words they painted on a bombed-out building. Courtesy Waad al-Kateab

She knew that “at any moment we could be killed”. So, she began recording as much of what she saw and experienced as possible, hopeful but uncertain that she would still be around to decide later what to do with the footage.

Watts, who won an International Emmy for the documentary Escape from Isis, was amazed by the breadth of her material.

Syrian director and producer Waad al-Kateab poses during a photocall for the film 'For Sama' at the 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 16, 2019. AFP
Syrian director and producer Waad al-Kateab. AFP

Al-Kateab hadn’t just recorded the horrors of life in a city where violent death became commonplace, and Russian airstrikes brought widespread destruction and fear, but also her blossoming romance with a young doctor, Hamza; their wedding, the cosy home where they hoped to build a life together, despite the conflict; her delight at learning she’s pregnant with their first child, Sama, and their warm interactions with friends and co-workers.

But al-Kateab now cannot return to Syria while Assad is still in power. In 2014, the security forces came looking for her, so she adopted the false name al-Kateab. The day before For Sama was screened for the first time, her parents left Syria, and have no intention of returning.

It caps off a golden run for For Sama, which was awarded the Prix L’Œil d’Or for Best Documentary at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival in May.

It was featured at Cannes as a special screening and received a standing ovation and many critical accolades.

Updated: December 3, 2019 11:05 AM

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