by Geoffrey Churchman
It would be difficult to produce a documentary that is more dramatic and absorbing than this one — filmed by a resident of Syria’s second largest city Aleppo during the years of the civil war since 2012, but mostly during the siege which lasted 6 months between June and December 2016. This year it received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
Waad Al-Kateab is a Syrian, albeit a hazel-eyed brunette who could easily pass for a European, although wears Muslim garb in public whether by choice or necessity. She went to Aleppo as a student at the age of 18 in 2011 to study marketing at the university. That was the year the uprising began and her footage filmed with smartphones shows rebels celebrating their taking charge of the city in 2012.
The situation for Aleppo’s inhabitants, while not good from that point on, became grim in 2016 when the Russians, invited by Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad, began bombing rebel hideouts, in the process causing considerable damage to civilian buildings.
The situation became progressively worse. Waad, by now married to a doctor she met at one of the hospitals, has a baby, Sama, born during the the war. Sama becomes Waad’s focus during the siege (hence the title) and she is increasingly committed to making this visual record of what it’s like to live in a city that is slowly being destroyed and in which the necessities of life become hard to obtain, including the means at the hospital to fix up those who have been too close to bomb and shell blasts.
It’s probably not a spoiler to say that Waad, husband and Sama managed to get out of Aleppo at the end of the siege when the Russians gave them an ultimatum to do so.
Although full of reality (the unscripted type) drama and pathos, even here there are some lighter moments.
The film includes exterior shots, including bombs exploding, but it is predominately life behind sandbags and reinforced concrete.
It’s not the only such movie made during the Syrian Civil War to be released: another released last year is The Cave which profiles Amani Ballour, a female doctor in Ghouta who operates a makeshift hospital nicknamed “the Cave”.
Even more dangerous for the filmmakers was City of Ghosts, a 2017 Arabic-language American documentary film about the Syrian media activist group ‘Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently’, made surreptitiously while the city of Raqqa was under ISIS occupation.
The politics presented in For Sama are deceptively simple: the good guys are the rebels who try to overthrow evil dictator Assad, but the evil Russians come to his aid. In reality it was a far more complex situation with a mix of armed factions at various stages fighting each other; few if any of which (with the exception of the Kurds) deserved any trust and these factions had no qualms about committing atrocities. At various times the whole situation became a mix of proxy wars with foreign powers — including Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US — either supporting the regime, or one of the insurgent groups.
Unsurprisingly, Israel, which has a border with Syria, declined to take sides — it has no love of Assad, but it was a case of ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.’ Egypt took the same stance.
With that caveat, this is an instructive and gripping documentary.
For Sama is screening at the Shoreline.
KCDC media release:
Sites of historic and natural significance stretching across the district from Paekakariki to Ōtaki are among 12 projects granted financial assistance from the latest Kāpiti Coast District Council Heritage Fund.
The Fund aims to assist and actively encourage landowners and members of the local community to manage, protect and enhance heritage features throughout the district including ecological, geological, historical and cultural sites.
The maximum total grant allocated under the scheme is $5,000.
Among the projects that will benefit from the fund are:
- The maintenance of the animal control network that protects the 17.3ha ‘Waterfall Road Bush’, and ongoing research into changes in the resident beetle population.
- Supporting Steam Inc to repair and paint the side of the wooden freight shed used by the U.S. Marines during World War II, which is visible from State Highway One.
- The promotion of work being undertaken to conserve an historic rotunda dormitory at the former Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp which was originally constructed during WW1 for soldiers convalescing at King George V Military Hospital in Rotorua.
- The continued restoration and protection of ‘The Kainga’, a Te Horo cottage which has links dating back to the district’s early whaling history and that may be one of the oldest buildings in the Wellington region.
“The selfless, hard work done by property owners across Kāpiti to restore and protect our rare natural wetlands and forests is truly visionary and very much appreciated, as is the volunteer work done to protect our heritage buildings like the Otaki health camp rotunda,” says Grants Allocation Committee Chairperson Councillor Jackie Elliott.
“It is a pleasure for the Grants Allocation Sub-committee members and staff to be able to assist them with heritage grants.”
The pdf for the Grants Allocation Committee meeting last Thursday has full details.
Your editors went to the Art Deco Weekend in Napier as we often do, and decided to stay in Havelock North which, as some readers will remember, had its drinking water supply contaminated by a campylobacter outbreak in August 2016 which made over 5,000 people violently ill and was linked to four deaths. The source of it was a surface pond less than 100 metres from the bore, scientific test results showed.
We asked the B’n’B lady where we stayed what things were like now. It seems the water is considered officially ‘safe’, but has so much chlorine in it that it’s horrible. “We only drink water from our filter.” However, even filtered it wasn’t great tasting. That sentiment seems standard in the town, according to this article from last August on the NZ Herald website:
“[Havelock North resident Anna] Lorck said many locals still fear the water.
“People just don’t trust the water. People are still buying their water, people are still going to pump stations and filling up bottles with water. Many people in our community would love to have chlorine-free water.”
Naturally, we also asked our hostess, “Do you have water meters here?” No, she said, people wouldn’t stand for them. We told her that 70% of Kapiti people didn’t want the Rowan & Dougherty water meters either, but they still got imposed on our suffering ratepayers.
We also told her that in Ireland 73% of citizens refused to pay the water meter charges that the Irish government decided to foist on them, bringing the government down.
With that, we decided to go to the local Irish pub, the Rose and Shamrock, to celebrate Irish spirit in more ways than one!
And at the Art Deco celebration:
The elderly dog of Waikanae nurseryman Gus Evans, a well- known local identity, here meets with Margaret Stevenson-Wright of the Waikanae Community Board.
Tuesday 25 February at 7.30 pm
Ann Evans on the History of Whareroa Farm
· Kapiti Uniting Church Meeting Room, 10 Weka Road, Raumati Beach.
· Enter through the main church door.
· All welcome. Gold coin koha thanks.
One of the two. Those birds are endangered dabchicks — info
A message from the council:
Tenā koutou katoa
We are helping Greater Wellington [Regional Council] stump grind the old stumps on the north bank alongside the vaulting club (we’re carrying it out, they’re paying). The contractors will start at the western (Greenaway Road) end and work back towards the Jim Cooke Park area. They will have signage, spotters and barriers in place for the general public. The contractors will be endeavouring to permit people to go past, but at stumps close to the path, they may need to close track for a little time, so there may be a delay/detour. Signage will be used if they need to close the track for a longer period of time. The contractors have been asked to let people flow straight through at peak commuting time for school/after work and at the end of each day, the track will be open for public use.
On another note, the Waikanae Beach playground is progressing well. We had a day of delay with getting foundations in amidst the roots. However, the rest of the playground is fully open and operational.