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BAFTA-Winning Filmmaker Waad al-Kateab on Why For Sama Cannot Just Be For Her Daughter

The 29-year-old Syrian filmmaker Waad al-Kateab, nominated for Academy and who recently won Best Documentary at the BAFTAs for her documentary For Sama about her struggle out of Aleppo, shares why this film cannot just be for her daughter

For Sama, Waad al-Kateab, Bafta

Waad al-Kateab. Supplied

What has been the most exciting aspect of the awards circuit for you?
The ability to start a conversation about Syria with a new audience. Every award has something special, and just to be there, and try to shed the light in a different way… Also, meeting interesting people who you could never expect to cross, makes a difference in our life and in our industry.

For Sama, Waad al-Kateab, Bafta

Dr Hamza al-Kateab, Waad al-Kateab, Cate Blanchett, and Edward Watts at a screening in London. Photo: Getty

The most challenging part?
That it’s so emotional to me. It’s not just a film, it’s my life. Sometimes I feel like, what am I doing here? Then I remember the importance. The only thing that makes me feel OK is that I’m trying to spread the word about what’s happening.

Do you think your film can make a difference?
Making a difference with this subject is so difficult and challenging – we are against the Asaad regime, its propaganda, the fears people have about refugees, Islamophobia… Also, sometimes here, in the US, and in the UK, you need to prove yourself as a female filmmaker – that you are able to do this. Sometimes you think, is this battle really something I still need to be fighting for? Yes, it is – to bring equality to many different people, of a different gender, or color, or background. We need to fight these small and big battles every second with our work.

For Sama, Waad al-Kateab, Bafta

For Sama. Supplied

What does awards recognition mean to you?
I came to London a year and a half ago and I am a refugee here. For the British Academy of Film and Television Arts to recognize the film and me in this way, with four nominations… no documentary has ever received this many nominations.

It is an amazing feeling; we are changing history with this record. As for the Oscar nomination, I was in the UK, together with my team and my husband. We had some confidence that maybe we would make it, but we still had fears. It was amazing to hear our film’s name – also my daughter’s name – called out.

It gives you a lot of responsibility, that you must continue this struggle and try to push more and more. We are not a big film production company. We are up against powerful companies with budgets for promotion that we don’t have but we need to present the film as it is, because what we have is powerful in itself.

For Sama, Waad al-Kateab, Bafta

A scene from For Sama. Supplied

For Sama, Waad al-Kateab, Bafta

A scene from For Sama. Supplied

As more people see the film, what do you aim to accomplish?
I hope people who will watch the film now, will understand that what happened to us three years ago in Syria is still happening today. Our story as a family is still happening every day, with three million people who live under the bombing and under the shelling, who live in the street in the cold. I want people to take responsibility, to tell the truth of what is happening in Syria, to tell their representatives and decision-makers around the world, to stop bombing hospitals, schools, civilians, and stand against the regime. Even if this is happening miles away, it affects the stability of this world and the stability of our future, our dreams, and how we want this world to be safe for our children.

For Sama by Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts was awarded the Prix L’OEil d’Or for best documentary at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival

Originally published in the February 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia

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