Syrian documentary ‘For Sama’ sweeps British Independent Film Awards

"For Sama" won the top prize at the 2019 British Independent Film Awards. Supplied
Updated 03 December 2019

Syrian documentary ‘For Sama’ sweeps British Independent Film Awards

  • The Waad Al-Khateab and Edward Watts directed documentary took home four prizes at the annual awards ceremony
  • It beat out the acclaimed Charles Dickens-inspired movie, “The Personal History of David Copperfield" for the top prize

DUBAI: Congratulations are in order for Emmy award-winning filmmakers Waad Al-Khateab and Edward Watts, who took home the top prize — Best Film — at the British Independent Film Awards (BIFA) on Sunday for their profoundly moving documentary “For Sama.”

The film beat out a lineup of acclaimed features, including Armando Ianucci's Charles Dickens-inspired movie, “The Personal History of David Copperfield” starring Dev Patel, Joanna Hogg’s “The Souvenir,” the 2018 musical drama “Wild Rose” and Mark Jenkin’s feature “Bait.”

“So happy and honored to receive a great recognition of three awards,” wrote Al-Khateab on her official Twitter account.

The moving documentary, which tells the story of a young mother's experience of the Syrian civil war, swept the evening, also winning the Best Director, Best Documentary and Best Editing awards.

Sama, for whom the film is named, is the name of Al-Khateab and her husband Hamza’s young daughter, who was born during Aleppo’s siege and lived through it for the first year of her life before the three of them were forced to flee. 

Al-Khateab first began to publish footage to show the world what was happening in Aleppo, before starting work with Channel 4 News in the UK in 2015.

“When I left (Syria), (Channel 4) asked me, ‘Do you have more footage of what you did for the news?’ I told them I had 12 hard drives worth of footage. They asked me to edit, and so I sat with (co-director) Edward Watts, and we watched everything, and thought about how we could do this. It was a very long process with multiple parties,” Al-Khateab previously shared with Arab News.

Unflinching in its footage, the documentary, which was two years in the making, features often-horrifying visuals of the people of Aleppo mortally wounded, in distress, dead and dying.

Al-Khateab and her collaborators constantly grappled with the ethics of screening such disturbing images. Ultimately, they felt it was too important not to show.

“What you see in the film is really a fraction of what Al-Khateab filmed and what happened in Aleppo,” Watts said to Arab News.

The BIFA’s aren’t the only awards ceremony to recognize the unignorable impact of the Syrian war portrait. Memorably, it took home the Prix L’Œil d’Or for Best Documentary at the Cannes Film Festival 2019. 


Bahrain’s Chef & The Whale: Small on space, big on taste

Chef Stephen McGowan is the man in charge of the eatery. (Supplied)
Updated 37 min 34 sec ago

Bahrain’s Chef & The Whale: Small on space, big on taste

  • Chef & The Whale is making waves on Bahrain’s Budaiya Highway

MANAMA: The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive at Chef & The Whale is that it’s bijou, for want of a better word. Just a few tables downstairs and a few more upstairs. But, boy, have they packed a lot in. On one wall there are pictures of the farmers and suppliers toiling to produce the high-quality ingredients used. On another is a block of shelves selling local ethical produce, from soap-free cleaning products to recyclable bowls and utensils made from coconut husks and — not to be missed — bags of Bahrain-roasted coffee.

Head up the stairs and there are great photographs representing every country from which there is a dish on the menu. In the upstairs section proper, you’ll find a kids’ corner, complete with fun educational books and toys, as well as a small garden section growing herbs — chilis and the like – some of which are handed over for donations at the regular charity coffee mornings (they’ve just raised almost $4,000 for victims of the Australian bush fires, though beneficiaries are usually closer to home).

The tacos are freshly pressed daily in-house. (Supplied)

On to the food, and there is much to say. The menu has been divided into four sections: Garden — mostly plant-based and all but one dish vegan, with several gluten-free options; Sea — as you would expect, fish and shellfish; Land — meats, chicken and duck; and Heaven — desserts, of course.

I started with the black bass ceviche, which is one of the signature dishes. I have to admit that, for my taste, the lime was a little overpowering and the chili not quite punchy enough. However, the fish was plentiful and perfect and the pairing with mashed avocado takes what would normally be a starter or snack to a dish fit for a light lunch.

The menu has been divided into four sections: Garden, Sea, Land and Heaven. (Supplied)

Next up came the Super Food Bowl and it truly was super. When eating out, I usually shy away from anything that’s promoted as healthy. Let’s face it, even I can put together a reasonably decent salad at home. But, don’t be fooled, this really is something else. There are 15 to 19 ingredients and if you can guess them all, you get a prize — I managed about 12 and even added a couple that weren’t there.

So, here are my correct guesses: roasted pumpkin, carrot and cumin hummus (heavenly), chick peas, soya beans, sun-dried tomatoes, cauliflower, mange tout, puffed black rice, blueberries, green leaves, roasted almonds, various seeds and awesome falafel — crunchy on the outside yielding to a soft, fluffy inner — all topped with crispy kale. The flavor and texture combinations in each mouthful were really outstanding — challenging to the taste buds and superbly filling. For this alone, I would go back.

In the upstairs section proper, you’ll find a kids’ corner, complete with fun educational books and toys. (Supplied)

My next dish was Crispy Kunafa Shrimp Bao — a huge juicy shrimp coated in crunchy kataifi dough and topped with miso mayo, white and black tobiko (flying fish roe) and pickled watermelon rind — yes, they’re even recycling kitchen scraps. The use of a black bao bun rendered this dish visually exciting and the crunch of the savory kunafa coupled with the tangy bite of the tobiko made for a deeply satisfying combination.

The last of my savories — and possibly the best, though I would be hard-pressed to choose — was the Baja Fish Taco. The tacos are freshly pressed daily in-house, you can really taste and feel the difference. And the Baja sauce is definitely not your average — the mayo has been replaced with tofu so the tacos also appear among the vegan dishes. For the purist, this might be a bit of a surprise; I loved the piquancy and texture and it’s good to know there’s another option for those following a plant-based diet.

. On another is a block of shelves selling local ethical produce, from recyclable bowls and utensils to bags of Bahrain-roasted coffee. (Supplied) 

The fish is black bass, lightly battered and cooked to perfection, and the dish comes with small bowls of chopped tomatoes, guacamole and sweet-chili sauce so you can make up your taco to your own preference — I piled them all on and would recommend you do the same.

For dessert I had San Sebastian Cheesecake. Yet another new experience. The crustless, fluffy bottom with the famous baked top was truly divine, another textural triumph which is highly recommended.

And, on a final note, I couldn’t leave without asking about the name. So, the Chef is Chef Stephen McGowan, the man in charge, and the Whale is because this mammal explores all four corners of the earth, as does the menu.