Emmy award-winning filmmakers, Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts’s first feature documentary, For Sama, produced by Channel 4 News/ITN Productions, has been commissioned by Channel 4 and PBS Frontline, it was announced today (Thursday).
For Sama is a powerful account of one woman’s inspirational journey through love, motherhood, war and survival during five years of the brutal conflict in Aleppo, Syria.
Filmed between 2012-2016 by Waad, the film starts when she was a student at the University of Aleppo. Over the next five years Waad joined the uprising against the regime, fell in love, got married and gave birth to her daughter Sama. Her intimate personal journey is intertwined with her eyewitness account of the destruction of her beloved Aleppo. What emerges are some of the most powerful, dramatic and visceral scenes ever caught on camera in one of the world’s most dangerous cities.
As Syrian forces besieged rebel-held Aleppo in 2016, Waad and her husband Hamza made the agonising decision to remain there, despite the huge risk to their young family. For Sama is Waad's account of these dark days, and her attempt to explain to Sama why they chose to stay behind after others had left, and to shine a light on the atrocities in the city that they called home. Filmed and produced by a young woman, the film offers a unique view of the war through a woman's eyes.
After her escape from Aleppo, Waad teamed up with Emmy award-winning filmmaker Edward Watts (Escape from ISIS), collaborating for a year and a half in order to produce this extraordinary feature documentary.
Director Waad al-Kateab says: "I was afraid I would never make this film. While I was in Aleppo I dreamt of making it for my daughter Sama - to explain to her why we stayed. I feel it does justice to our experience, our sacrifices and the unimaginable pain of what we, the Syrian people, endured during those years of war. It's our story, our voices and I'm proud of it. This film is also for the people we lost - a testament to their sacrifices."
Director Edward Watts says: “I have always been passionate about telling stories from Syria since the uprising began, but Waad’s story is unique, extraordinary, unlike anything I have ever worked on before. By taking you on a journey across years of the struggle, through such a personal female perspective, it brings out the reality of Syria and its people – their humour, joy and humanity as well as the horrors they’ve suffered. It has been a privilege to work on this film and I hope as many people as possible will see it."
Waad started documenting the horrors of Aleppo for Channel 4 News in January 2016 while living in a makeshift hospital run by her husband. The hospital and surrounding residential areas were under attack by Syrian and Russian forces and the short films she made for the UK news programme became some of the most watched news pieces on Syria around the world. Her short news films received almost half a billion views online and won 24 awards – including the 2016 International Emmy for breaking news coverage.
When she was evacuated from Aleppo in December 2016 she managed to get all her footage out.
Nevine Mabro, Channel 4 News deputy editor, said: “Waad is one of the most courageous filmmakers we have ever worked with at Channel 4 News. She is dedicated to telling the story of Syria's destruction, the daily struggles, the appalling suffering and loss of life of the people living under siege. Her extraordinary footage has provided some of the most dramatic and emblematic scenes from Aleppo. Scenes which stay with you long after the report has ended.”
Channel 4 Commissioning editor, Siobhan Sinnerton, said “Channel 4 has made over a dozen documentaries about the conflict in Syria since it began in 2011, but this is the first by a Syrian female Director. We are enormously grateful to Waad for all her work for the channel and believe this film stands out for its mix of horrifying frontline footage and profoundly moving domestic intimacy. It’s an over-used phrase but this is indeed an astonishing film.”
For Sama has been selected for its world premiere at SXSW South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas. The film is being distributed in the US by PBS Distribution.
Directed by: Waad al-Kateab & Edward Watts
Filmed & Produced by: Waad al-Kateab
Edited by: Chloe Lambourne & Simon McMahon
Executive Producers: Ben de Pear, Dan Edge, Nevine Mabro, Raney Aronson-Rath, Siobhan Sinnerton, George Waldrum
Production Companies: Channel 4 News, ITN Productions for Channel 4 and PBS Frontline
Waad al Kateab is a Syrian journalist and filmmaker who works for Channel 4 News in the UK. When the uprising began in Aleppo in 2011 she taught herself to film and captured some of the most memorable images of the conflict. Her short news films won 24 news awards – including the 2016 International Emmy for breaking news coverage.
Edward Watts is an Emmy award-winning, BAFTA nominated filmmaker who has directed over 20 documentary films for international broadcasters including the BBC, Channel 4 and PBS in America.