A touching Syrian war story leaves its mark at Cannes

EPA-EFE//JULIEN WARNAND

Syrian director and producer Waad Al Kateab poses during the photo call for 'For Sama' at the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival.

A touching Syrian war story leaves its mark at Cannes


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On the sidelines of the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival, New Europe’s Federico Grandesso spoke with directors Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts in an exclusive interview about their film For Sama, which was presented out of competition at Cannes.

Al-Kateab has won 24 awards, including the 2016 International Emmy, for breaking news coverage, Watts’ Escape from ISIS landed him a prestigious Bafta nomination for Best Current Affairs Documentary.

For Sama traces the journey of a young Syrian woman, al-Kateab, through love, marriage. and motherhood across five years in Aleppo during the height of the ongoing civil war. An intimate, visceral documentary about the female experience during war, al-Kateb faces an impossible decision – should she flee the war torn city, and abandon the struggle for freedom to protect her young daughter’s life?

Federico Grandesso (FG): What was the most striking point in your film that definitely hit the viewer?

Waad Al-Kateab (WK):  I can’t give you one moment. It was about how the story was my life. I was recording my daily life and the life of another family. It is more about how close you are to the story than a specific moment during the film. One of the most shocking moments was the story of a baby who was born and injured by a barrel bomb. He was dead when they took him out. After 5 minutes trying to do CPR, he just opened his eyes and cried, this was a moment that, not just for me, was unbelievable.

Edward Watts (EW): Within our footage, she captured scenes of great horror and human suffering in the hospital like innocent people being wounded or killed by all kinds of advanced modern weapons. The truly amazing thing that this great woman did was to capture these incredible scenes of life, humanity, and love. These intimate scenes with young babies, the birth of her own baby, her friends living together and laughing even under the most intense bombardment, this true humanity I think will stay with me forever.

FG: What do you think about the life in the future Syria, do you think that we are going to a final stabilization of the conflict?

WA: I’m still very involved with this situation and I was going through this suffering for six years, I think that we have no choice but to live. Maybe the situation will be better but after five months, but what we have seen is that the situation in Syria is getting worse and worse. All the massacres by the regime are still happening now and I think that the only thing that could happen to give justice to the victims is to give them the right to choose their own life with the help of the government or the world’s powers that are involved in our conflict. They should do something. It doesn’t make sense to stand and just watch as these people are left alone. 

EW: I think we are heading towards a very dangerous moment in the would. There are all these flash points – terrible conflicts are happening inside Syria and in other countries and also between nations. I really hope that the message of this film can break through in a big way. We need to come together as human beings, otherwise we are on the path to more divisions and even worse conflicts.

FG: What was the most difficult part in the making of this film?

WA: For me as the main character in the film and the person who shot the sequences, I just tried to forget all my pain and sadness about what happened to me. It was a very big responsibility, but at the same time it was also painful because I was “living” these experiences again and again.

FG: Do you have other projects for the future?

  

WA: I will to do something more about the Syrian situation and about people who are stuck between life and death. I would also like to talk about what the future will be for them. For the moment. I will focus on the promotion of this film at different festivals in the hope that something could change.    

FG: Was it difficult to find a financial support? 

WA: We were lucky because we got the support from Channel 4 news, Channel 4, ITN Productions, and PBS Frontline to do this film. It took a long time therefore we needed a lot financial resources. We worked for two years and before that there was five years of shooting. I finished all the camera work and when we met, we put the script together regarding what we had as materials. 

FG: How did you meet each other and started this project?

WA:  I was working with Channel 4 News from inside Aleppo doing news reports. They then asked me if I have had a lot of material to do something longer about the lives of people who were living the situation there. They introduced me to Ed. He had a lot of experience and passion about the war in Syria, He did something before about ISIS, but never about the (Assad) regime.

EW:  We were good partners because we had different perspectives and experiences – the female perception and the Western male one. 

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