Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts Talk About Their Documentary on Syria – SXSW Filmmaker In Focus

The 2019 SXSW Film Festival is almost upon us and we can’t wait to have you here! Before you make your way down to Austin, TX, get to know films from our lineup a little bit better with our Filmmaker In Focus series. Dive into our Q&A with directors Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, as they tells us about their film For Sama, which will make its world premiere in the Documentary Feature Competition.

In your own words, what does this film mean to you?

Waad al-Kateab: This is not just a film for me, it’s my life, my greatest loss, my greatest happiness. It is everything I struggled for and dreamt of, my duty to the city I belong to. It bears witness to all the crimes I saw and it’s my way of saying to the world that we are still fighting for our cause, and to say to the killer Bashar al Assad that we will never forgive until justice is done. It says to all the people we lost, “we will never forget you and we will always see the future through your dreams.”

Edward Watts: This is the most important film I have ever worked on. Waad, Hamza, Sama and their friends are extraordinary, courageous people, an example to us all in these days of great tumult in the world. Their story offers a unique prism through which to see the experience of the Syrian people, the hope they felt as well as the horrors they suffered, the humour and spirit that the dictators could never crush. It’s been an honour and a privilege to direct this film with Waad.

What motivated you to tell this story?

WAK: What we have lost as Syrians, being forced to leave our city, living without a home, the feeling of helplessness. These days people all talk about “Assad’s victory”. What kind of victory is it when you have destroyed cities, slaughtered civilians, arrested tens of thousands and forced millions to flee? Is that victory? I want to tell this story so the world can see the truth of what happened, not the lies.

EW: Ever since the uprising against the Assad dictatorship began, I have wanted to make a film that helps people connect with what has happened in Syria. It is one of the most significant moments in global history since WW2. So many problems today, from ISIS to the refugee crisis and rise of the far right can be traced back to our failure to stand with the Syrian people in their first days of their struggle for freedom. At last, through Waad’s life, people can go on an epic journey through the whole uprising, to see and experience the truth for themselves.

What do you want the audience to take away?

WAK: All the world knows there was a war in Syria, but few knew that there was life, love and beauty there as well. There were so many dreams that the dictatorship destroyed. I want people to know that it wasn’t a civil war, it was a revolution. We wanted to change our lives, and we fought the greatest odds, before the indifferent eyes of the world.

EW: I want the audience to feel all the emotions that the Syrian people have felt — the hope, the friendship, the love, the happiness as well as the shock, the horror, the grief, the loss. So that the Syrians cease to be the “victims” you see on the news and become real human beings in the audience’s hearts. I hope that way they’ll come to understand the tragedy that we have allowed to happen.

How did you find your subject?

WAK: I am my subject! My struggle to be a woman, a journalist and a mother in a warzone. I felt I had a responsibility to film and document what was happening, while building a life and my own family.

EW: Ever since the uprising in Syria began, I have wanted to make films about what’s happening there. The people at Channel 4 knew about this passion of mine and thought I would be a good collaborator to direct the story of her life with her. We were introduced and, after several days watching her footage together in the lobby of the Istanbul Hilton, decided to go ahead and work together. That was over a year and a half ago!

What made you choose SXSW to showcase your film to the world?

WAK/EW: SXSW is one of the most exciting festivals in the world, the new standard bearer for bold, innovative and independent filmmaking. We couldn’t be happier to have our world premiere here.

Add For Sama to your SXSW Schedule. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we share more interviews with our SXSW 2019 filmmakers!

Join Us For SXSW 2019

Register and book your hotel now to save! The Film Badge gets you primary access to all SXSW Film events including Film Keynotes and Featured Sessions, world premieres, round tables, workshops, parties, and more. Over the course of nine days, the SXSW Film Festival hosts over 450 screenings! Film registrants also have primary access to Convergence events, including the Comedy Festival and nine unique Conference tracks, as well as secondary access to most Interactive and Music events.

For Sama – Photo by Waad al-Kateab

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