Title: For Sama Release Date: March 11, 2019 Director: Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts Production Company: PBS Frontline | Channel 4 News | ITN Productions Summary/Review:
Journalist Waad Al-Kateab filmed her everyday life for five years as she finishes her university studies, falls in love, gets married, and has a baby. The difference from other personal documentaries of this sort is that she filmed this in Aleppo during the Arab Spring, the Syrian Civil War, and the ultimate fall of Aleppo to the forces of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Her husband Hamza was one of the few doctors to remain in Aleppo during the civil war and Waad’s film is unflinching in its depiction of the traumatic violence suffered by the patients brought to the hospital. And yet the movie is also a portrait of hope and perseverance of the people of Aleppo who somehow retain good humor under constant attack.
The movie as framed as a message to Sama, Waad and Hamza’s baby born during the war, explaining why her parents needed to stay. You may question why anyone would keep a small child in the war zone, although we know the fate of Syrian refugee children was one that also could end in death. At times I feel that Waad might have gone to far in filming the brutal violence on people’s bodies and the grief of people watching their family die. But it is nevertheless necessary to demonstrate the full horror of war and tyranny. I think this is an important movie that everyone should see but be prepared as it is not easy to watch.
Title: Lawrence of Arabia Release Date: 10 December 1962 Director: David Lean Production Company: Horizon Pictures Summary/Review:
Who was T.E. Lawrence and why was he worthy of an extraordinarily-long biopic crafted by David Lean (Brief Encounter, Bridge on the River Kwai)? Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is an enigmatic British Army lieutenant during the First World War whose eccentricities make him a poor fit for the rigid military hierarchy. He’s assigned as an advisor to the Arab troops under Prince Faisail (the very English Alec Guinness who nevertheless looks a lot like the real person) who are revolting against the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence uses this opportunity to try to unite fractious tribes in a Pan-Arab cause and make daring strikes against the Ottomans. He’s also not above burnishing his own legend.
I’m sure that smarter people than me have written about the problems of casting white actors as Arabs and the “white savior’ narrative in this story so I won’t get into that. But I will also point out that this film is actually critical of Lawrence, and even more so of his superiors who nakedly betray the cause of Arab independence. This movie also does a good job of relating Lawrence’s deteriorating mental health as he is shattered by the trauma of war.
There are a lot of great supporting actors in this film. Among them is Omar Sharif (an actual Arabic actor) who plays a tribal leader Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish. Initially, Ali is an antagonist to Lawrence but over the course of the film he becomes the voice of conscience as Lawrence goes off the deep end. Anthony Quinn plays a leader of a rival tribe and Jack Hawkins plays Lawrence’s put-upon superior officer. This is one of these movies that I will need to see on a big screen. It’s full of Lean’s trademark wide shots of desert landscapes, sunrises/sunsets, and troops riding camels and horses. All in all it’s a gorgeous yet complicated film!
Author: Zeyn Joukhadar Title: The Map of Salt and Stars Narrator: Lara Sawalha Publication Info: [New York] : Simon & Schuster Audio, 
This novel is the story of 12-year-old Nour, who grows up in Manhattan, but after the death of her father, her mother takes the family back to their native Syria. Nour find herself an outsider, unable to speak Arabic. Unfortunately, their move to Syria coincides with a time of increasing protests that grow into the Arab Spring and then the Syrian Civil War. Nour and her family become refugees crossing the Middle East and North Africa.
Throughout the novel, Nour tells herself her father’s story of Rawiya, a girl from hundreds of years earlier, who disguised herself as a boy and has adventures traveling around the Meditteranean. The two stories interweave through the novel, intersecting in the similarities of the two protagonists.
The novel is a good story and in Nour and Rawiya has two characters that readers can identify. It’s a good introduction for young adult readers (and old adults like me) to the issues of contemporary Syria from the perspective of a child.
Title: The White Helmets Release Date: September 16, 2016 Director: Orlando von Einsiedel Production Company: Grain Media | Violet Films Summary/Review:
This short but harrowing documentary focuses on a group of volunteers in the Syrian Civil Defence – known as The White Helmets – in the war-torn city of Aleppo. The organization was formed in 2014 in response to Syrian government forces and their Russian allies targeting civilian populations. Their main responsibility is to help recover people trapped in the rubble of bombed-out buildings, saving the lives of thousands of people across Syria, as well as recovering the bodies of the dead.
The movie provides a mix of hope and humanity at the volunteers who put their lives on the line to rescue their neighbors, mixed with the bitterness that this cruel war never should have happened in the first place. A key part of the film features the rescue of a week-old baby that was trapped under debris for 16 hours. Later we see the White Helmets reuniting with the “miracle baby” as a healthy and happy toddler.
For part of the film, the volunteers we are following go across the border to Turkey for more in-depth training. There they observe the strangeness that comes from finding peace and quiet just by crossing a line on a map. While they are there, one of the volunteers also learns that his brother died in an attack and they all deal with the grief and guilt of that loss.
The movie is heartbreaking and hopeful and worth watching to learn about the horrors still being faced in part of our world.