Screened as part of NZIFF 2019

For Sama 2019

Directed by Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts Framing Reality

Shot over five years, Waad al-Kateab’s intimate, Cannes award-winning film addresses her baby daughter and delivers a harrowing account of the war in Aleppo, the devastation wrought on the city, its people and children.

Syria / UK In Arabic with English subtitles
100 minutes DCP



Waad al-Kateab


Chloë Lambourne
Simon McMahon


Nainita Desai


Hot Docs
Cannes (Special Screening) 2019


Golden Eye (Best Documentary), Cannes Film Festival 2019
Grand Jury Award & Audience Award (Best Documentary), SXSW 2019
Special Jury Prize (International Feature Documentary), Hot Docs 2019


Sama means sky in Arabic and Syrian director Waad al-Kateab hopes the skies above Aleppo might soon be free of Russian warplanes and the destruction they bring. Sama, al-Kateab’s baby, is named for the sky her mother dreams of, one simply populated by clouds and rain. Taking the form of an address to her daughter, al-Kateab’s film is intimate and powerful, a harrowing picture of an ongoing civil war.

In 2012, al-Kateab met her husband, Dr Zahed Katurji (aka Dr Hamza), at protests against President Bashar al-Assad. Both were dedicated to a new Syria: she, a marketing student, filmed, while he provided first aid. The film is in part a family video diary: falling in love, a wedding, the birth of a child, hanging out with their friends. But for all the irrepressible, relatable joy of these events, shells and bombs are often in the background. In one scene old men playing chess comment on Assad’s long neck and how a long neck means a long life. He’s a bloody giraffe, they exclaim.

Much of the footage is from hospitals, places which also act as Sama’s creche. When Al Quds, a hospital Dr Hamza helped set up, is bombed (and 53 people killed) they forge on and set up another which also becomes their home. The camera does not look away from the brutality. Over and over again dust-and-blood covered children appear; they are traumatised, grief-stricken. Many of them die. As al-Kateab witnesses this devastation she questions her own decision to stay, to bring a child into this world. Co-directed by Edward Watts, this humanist film is a vital addition to a growing canon documenting the ongoing war crimes in Syria. — Catherine Bisley