“For Sama” & “The Cave” are films from Syria which both received Academy Award nominations for best documentary 2020. Neither won but they are both remarkable films. Those who would like to witness the character of the Syrian Arab Spring can watch “For Sama” online on the link here; “The Cave” can be streamed on the National Geographic streaming app available on Hulu & other streaming sites.
“For Sama” won’t be remembered for its awkward camera techniques so much as for the journalist recording the underground hospital in Aleppo run by her husband, both partisans of the Arab Spring. Waad Al-Kaseab weaves her love story with Dr. Hamza Al-Kaseab as a love letter to their newborn daughter Sama. One can see the character & commitment of those who stood up to the Assad regime despite Syrian & Russian bombing. It’s a very moving, tender, & powerful story. They were the last to leave Aleppo when it fell to the regime in December 2016 after years of siege by bombers & ground forces.
“The Cave” is a more professional documentary photographically. It revolves around Dr. Amani Ballour, a Syrian pediatrician from Al-Ghouta who managed an underground hospital in that city whilst under five years of siege by Syrian & Russian bombers. Her life is a rebuttal of the ‘war on terror’ rubbish about saving Muslim women. The film is slow moving but also powerfully shows the character & commitment of partisans of the Syrian Arab Spring in their determination to live free of dictatorship & a police state. The most overwhelming segment is after the 2018 chlorine gas attack by Assad forces where children are brought to the hospital unable to breathe. It is after that when residents are forced to evacuate. Dr. Amani’s soliloquy as she evacuates stands out for its poignancy & poetic force.
The Al-Kaseab family now lives in exile in the UK & attended the Academy Awards ceremony, still committed to the Arab Spring. Dr. Amani & other medical staff from Al-Ghouta live in exile in Turkey. Both Dr. Amani & the film director Feras Fayyad were denied visas under the Muslim ban on Syrians but due to efforts by National Geographic, Fayyad was allowed to attend the Academy Awards at the last minute.
NY Times journalist Robert F. Worth wrote an article in the NY Review of Books titled “And the Oscar Goes to… A Simplified Story of Syria’s Civil War” which manages to miss the power of both films by asking ‘But what about the jihadis? Why weren’t they mentioned in the films?’ Muhammad Idrees Ahmad responded to that idiocy with an excellent article titled “Syria’s War on Screen: An Exchange.” Worth is taking a page from Assad propagandists in attempting to portray the Arab Spring as ‘jihadist’ when these films show they were present, not dominant.
Worth’s worthless article:
Idrees Ahmad’s response: