After a year full of triumphs for Arab cinema – with more Arab films than ever reaching the international festival circuit and receiving prestigious awards – the Academy is now wrapping it up with its announced shortlist, where two Syrian films have made it to the Best Documentary feature category.
For Sama, directed and shot by Emmy award-winning filmmakers Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts over 5 years in besieged Aleppo, is in the shortlist along with The Cave, directed by Oscar nominee Feras Fayyad, which is a National Geographic-produced film following an underground hospital in Syria run by a team of female doctors.
Both films have been making a sweeping impact on the festival circuit since their release. The Cave took home the People’s Choice Documentary Award at the 44th annual Toronto International Film Festival, while For Sama, just a couple of weeks ago, nabbed three awards at the British Independent Film Awards, including the top prize (Best Film), Best Documentary, and Best Director for Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts.
The two films focus on depicting war-torn Syria and the heroes that arise from its ashes, struggling to keep its people alive. For Sama has also launched entire human rights campaign to try and put an end to the war crimes executed by the Syrian regime.
In partnership with International Justice Chambers Guernica 37, the filmmakers are working on submitting the archived footage to the UN-mandated independent investigatory mechanism (IIM) as evidence of war crimes.
The red carpet for Cannes Film Festival's special screenings this year, where For Sama was screened as an Official Selection, saw directors Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts, along with Dr. Hamza al-Kateab, raise pleas to the Syrian regime to stop the air attacks on hospitals in Idlib.
The 2020 Academy Award Nominations will be announced on January 13, and the shortlist is the last hurdle before then – the category of Best Documentary Feature alone was narrowed down from 159 contenders to 15 – for one of those films to potentially win the accolade.