Award-winning Syrian director of 'For Sama' pays tribute to NHS workers battling coronavirus

Award-winning Syrian director of 'For Sama' pays tribute to NHS workers battling coronavirus
3 min read
16 April, 2020
Kateab's Oscar-nominated 'For Sama' followed doctors on the frontlines in Aleppo. Now the Syrian director has filmed British doctors fighting the novel coronavirus.
Waad al-Kateab filmed inside an NHS trust where nine have died from coronavirus [Twitter]
The Syrian director of the Oscar-nominated documentary For Sama has paid tribute to healthcare workers in her adopted home with a new report that takes viewers to the frontlines of the battle against coronavirus.

Waad Al-Kateab's award-winning documentary was set partly in an embattled field hospital in Syria's Aleppo, where the director and her doctor husband lived and worked during the bloody siege of the city.

Now, the BAFTA-winning director has paid tribute to medical workers on the frontlines of an entirely different war - the war against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kateab was granted access to film inside an intensive care unit (ICU) in Kent where NHS workers are treating coronavirus patients. The documentary aired on Wednesday evening on the UK's Channel 4.

In a section of the film uploaded to Channel 4's YouTube channel, a coronavirus patient at the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust describes her experience as she receives treatment in the respiratory ward.

"Life is too short for us and I keep thinking and praying that God will help me," said Shirly Pequieraa, a 55-year-old hospital nurse. 

The Channel 4 filmmakers also spoke with Dr Andy Taylor, a consultant anaesthetist working with the worst-hit Covid-19 patients.

The doctor described how patients with severe cases produce a lot of respiratory secretions they are unable to pass due to being anaesthetised while on a ventilator.

Read more: For Sama: One mother's astonishing tale for her daughter documenting hope and horror in Syria

"We have to do that for them by suctioning the secretions out. The main problem we get with these patients is getting oxygen in," he said.

The hospital has seen 37 confirmed cases of the virus, of whom nine died.

Conditions in the hospital appear at first glance much better than those in the Al-Quds hospital in Aleppo, which was founded by Kateab's husband Hamza and routinely attacked by pro-regime forces.

But it was still necessary for the filmmaker to equip herself with protective gear before entering the coronavirus ward.

In a video posted on her Twitter account on Thursday, Kateab was pictured dressing in personal protective equipment (PPE), including a face mask and gown, as part of the preparations for filming.

Portrayed as a letter from mother to daughter, "For Sama" follows Kateab's day-to-day life in Aleppo over the course of five years, from the 2011 uprising to life under the city's devastating siege by Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Kateab gets married to Hamza - a doctor at one of the few remaining hospitals in Aleppo whose work the film follows - and gives birth to her daughter Sama, whose upbringing amid chaotic warfare fills the new mother with palpable fear.

It earned a record four nominations at the BAFTAs (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), picking up the prize for Best Documentary at the award show earlier this year. 

Last year, For Sama won the best documentary award at the Cannes film festival and the Documentary Feature Competition's Grand Jury and Audience Awards at the South by Southwest festival.

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