A documentary by Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts. Rating unavailable
Waad al-Kateab’s And Edward Watts’s incredible, chaotic documentary reveals the hidden world behind the headlines of an Aleppo under siege. The images are by turns surreal and horrific. Hospital workers laugh and warm themselves over a missile that’s just blown a hole through the roof and landed on the tile floor. Children run sobbing, carrying the limp bodies of their shrapnel-ripped smaller siblings. And old men play chess outside a pink building that bombs have folded like an envelope.
Between 2012 and 2016, al-Kateab, an activist and journalist in her 20s, filmed the siege of the once-thriving Syrian city to the Assad regime’s forces. She traces Aleppo’s path as a site for idealistic student uprisings to an apocalyptic wasteland under brutal attack.
During those years, al-Kateab also falls in love, gets married, becomes pregnant with Sama, and eventually moves with her doctor husband and newborn baby into Aleppo’s last hospital to treat the wounded. Throughout, the introspective filmmaker asks herself repeatedly, “Why would anyone stay here, let alone bring a baby into this hell?” By the end of it, you’ll fully understand, and your question will be “How could the world have allowed this to happen?”
What makes the documentary stand out is that it is a war story told through the eyes of not only a woman, but a new mother. Her maternal concern for her daughter spreads to the children around her. She talks to one boy, holed up in his apartment, about how sad he is that all his friends have left; another preschooler mimics the difference in sound between Russian missiles and shells. More heartbreakingly, she meets traumatized children and grieving parents at her husband’s makeshift hospital—the only one the Russians haven’t air-bombed.
Throughout, she’s unafraid to stare down images the West would probably rather not see, from children being wrapped in body bags to blood gushing on hospital floors. She wants to show the scale of the tragedy, but she also reveals the resilience: an unforgettable scene in which her husband, Hamza, performs an emergency cesarean on a wounded woman shows, in breathless detail, the heroic lengths the young holdouts will go to to save a life.
This isn’t polished stuff: amid the blackouts and random bombings, al-Kateab’s handheld camera work is disorienting and choppy. But no other documentary out there has captured the human cost of the Syrian crisis with such clarity.