Survival in the Age of Self-Documentary

Another viewing experience inspired by Jordan and Eddie’s review of For Sama (Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts, 2019).


Waad Al-Kateab/pic cred: IMDB

Before high-quality video cameras became widely available to the consumer market, survivors of war zones corralled their thoughts, hopes, fears, and wishes with paper and pen.  Nearly two decades into the 20th century, though, one doesn’t need to be a professional videographer to document the unpredictability and involuntary nature of living in a city at the center of a conflagration between the established order and those who would oppose it in the name of freedom.

Eddie from Jordan and Eddie summarizes the structure, tone, and the compelling story of For Sama; I agree completely with his assessment.  The subject matter makes it inevitable that there are moments that punch you in the gut as you experience vicariously the tension and unease through the documentary’s primarily first-person POV.  The three scenes that dig very deep all feature children.  The first one occurs in the first half when two young boys accept the reality that their brother is dead.  Their shock and anguish is etched across their faces.  The second one, which actually happens near film’s end, consists of a medium close-up of a young girl wiping the tears from her mother’s face.

The third one, which happens in between the above examples, would be haunting even without the context of bombings: a baby is delivered via C-section and has no pulse.  His body is blue and gray.  The doctors give him chest compressions, feverishly rub his back, then hold him upside down and more or less jostle him so frenetically you’d think you were looking at a prop on a movie set.  Just as a faintly orange tint spreads from the back of the baby’s head, the doctors orient him onto his right side, his face towards the camera in an extreme close-up.  Then his eyes open, these dark pools a piercing contrast to the sickly hue of his tiny body.  And then he cries.

Via many Animal Planet shows and Bondi Vet YT videos, I’ve seen veterinarians perform similar rubbing on newborn puppies that haven’t yet begun to give signs of life.  Seeing these methods applied to a newborn human baby’s body is surreal and somewhat visually disconcerting.  Being born blue is not unheard of, but being born blue with no pulse after your mother was rushed to the hospital due to an explosion?  Can’t say that happens everyday, n’est-ce pas?

No matter how unavoidable armed conflict may be due to human weakness, can everyone agree to just:


Directors Edward Watts and Waad Al-Kateab with Waad’s husband and doctor, Hamza Al-Khateab/pic cred: IMDB



I went to YT intending only to watch a trailer and was pleasantly surprised that Frontline PBS had the full documentary on its channel.

For Sama won the Bafta for Best Documentary and was nominated and won for various categories at a variety of film festivals.

Watch this interview too.

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