Despite leaving Aleppo, Syria, three and a half years ago, Waad Al-Kateab is still dealing with the horrors and nightmares when she goes to sleep – but she’s far from giving up telling her story.

The filmmaker is behind For Sama, the 2019 documentary, which she produced and narrated, which focuses on her life amid the Syrian uprising.

It’s an emotionally confronting depiction of the struggle of those who chose to remain in Aleppo, and was nominated for four Baftas this year, winning best documentary, as well as being nominated for an Oscar for best documentary feature, after reportedly receiving a six-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival only a year ago.

But away from the red carpets and plaudits, there is an incredibly powerful and sobering story with Al-Kateab and her family part of the estimated 12 million who have been displaced due to the civil war in Syria, amid President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal and violent efforts to silence those calling for his removal.

The film begins in 2011 and is set in the city as Al-Kateab’s husband, Hamza Al-Kateab, is a doctor who, at one stage, is running the only hospital left in Aleppo, as bloodied bodies are carried in one after the other, crying children are calling for their family, and mothers are wailing all while demanding Al-Kateab keep filming.

This is all happening while the pair raise their daughter Sama.

The family – with Al-Kateab expecting their second daughter, Taima – were part of the last convoy to leave Aleppo in December 2016, as the regime took control of the city, crossing the border into Turkey where they remained before applying for asylum in the UK.

Al-Kateab, who now works as a journalist with Channel Four in London, was able to produce For Sama alongside co-director Edward Watts, revealing what it was like be living on the frontline.

While she recognises the amazing impact her story has had on others, speaking to during Refugee Week, the filmmaker admits she’s still processing what she went through in Syria.

Still suffering from nightmares, with the pain of what she experienced omnipresent, Al-Kateab says: ‘I didn’t do anything to take care of myself. I feel like it was exhausting and at one point I won’t be able to continue doing this.

‘The main thing I’m suffering from now is the nightmares, but I’m not ready to take the time to sit and face all of these things. It’s about telling the story and doing more; our story is still continuing.

‘Even when you’re out [of Syria] and you’re safe, it’s still going on and I feel I’m not at the point I can really process this until the situation in Syria stops in one way or another. It’s a very hard struggle, I feel every day, I’ve tried twice to go to a therapist; I wish I’m able to do this, but unfortunately not yet.’

Her work amid the revolution began when, in 2011, the Syrian Civil War broke out, and Al-Kateab began acting as a citizen journalist from Aleppo for Channel Four in the UK. She elected to stay and document her life over five years in the city, as she fell in love with Hamza, and the pair welcomed Sama (which means ‘sky’) in 2015.

During this time she kept the camera rolling, despite the horrific images of death, destruction and heartache – no less the threat to her own safety – she was confronted with daily.

Al-Kateab explains both she and Hamza understood the risks they were taking by remaining in Aleppo. And resolute on showing the world what was happening in the city the filmmaker had accepted the very real notion she may not make it out alive.

‘That feeling makes everything coming after this, I don’t know how to explain this, it’s really hard, but I understand what life means because I really understand what death means,’ she tells us. ‘It takes everything from you, your friends, your dreams, your future – everything you do after that moment, it will be like a dream, but it’s true to the last minute of your life.’

She adds: ‘It’s very weird for us to be on the stage, in totally different environment when just a couple years ago we chose to be in Aleppo. We never expected or worked for something like Bafta, we wanted to do it for Aleppo and the people who were there at the same time as us, being bombed.

‘We can’t ignore the responsibility that we carry every day when we chose to be part of the revolution. Having that platform to talk and to mention what’s going on, and the heroes working every day to help the people. That’s for me, an honour just to mention those people on the stage and make the influencers in that room [at the Baftas] hear our story.’

Speaking of her four-year-old daughter now, Al-Kateab knows there will come a time in the coming years where she’ll explain to Sama her story, and the impact its had on the world.

‘I don’t think Sama really understands what’s happening now, but she knows she has a film and she’s very excited about the idea,’ she says, laughing. ‘Just as an opinionated baby she’s teasing her little sister that the film is called For Sama and not ‘For Taima’.’

The filmmaker hopes that Sama will be proud of the documentary and that the experience of what she went through in Aleppo doesn’t affect her negatively.

She added: ‘I hope that she will understand what the importance of telling that story through her eyes and through her experience.

‘I think children and every human being on this earth, animals, trees, the environment itself, it is affected by all the crimes that were happening. The sound of the shelling, the things we had been through.

‘There is a lot of discussion that will come with Sama and I – I will try to understand what she has in her mind about what she went through and how that experience affected her. I’ll be there for her trying to help her process.’

Finding strength in those she met along the way of filming, as well as thinking of all those still left in Syria amid the regime, fighting for democracy, Al-Kateab will continue to share the story of her home country.

‘One year and three months ago we were going with the first film festival, we had no idea where the film was going to go, but we believed we had a very important story,’ she says. ‘I just hope people keep caring about Syria and what’s happening and go beyond For Sama and to do something, not just have feelings, but to change people’s lives.’

Al-Kateab continues: ‘Even now, with the bad moments I’m sometimes going through, when I have some nightmares, I know exactly where [I get] strength from – basically the first thing is my belief in the revolution, and standing against the regime, chanting for dignity, democracy, and a better future is something I’ll never regret.

‘Just to know how many Syrian people sacrificed themselves just to have a chance, it’s my responsibility. To see the suffering still going on in Syria, it’s making me feel that I should not be weak for these people, who are still there – I need to keep going and do something to change.

To help, visit

Refugee Week

So far, we have shared the story of Syrian surgeon Mohamad who worked in war zones before helping on the NHS coronavirus frontline, and the refugees who are leading the way in helping their UK communities through the pandemic.

We also heard from Ghaida, who told her story of how she was forced to flee Saudi Arabia or face death for being a bisexual woman.

Source: Read Full Article