That’s it! At least for now. The Oscars? No, not really. The brilliant inescapable film “For Sama”, willed on for an Oscar — a shoe in, many thought for the documentary category. It wasn’t to be.
Its filmmaker Waad al-Kateab and co-editor Edward Watts have swept the board elsewhere: BAFTA, Sundance etc. The end goal, nirvana, was to be the gold statue, more valuable than rare stones.
Few would doubt given her humanitarian expressions that Assad and the atrocities of his forces and allies would not have been called out to one of the world’s biggest television audiences. Her dress inscribed with the words “We dared to dream” was the hors d’oeuvre.
Few grand death-defying films will emerge from across the world, from regions, unfamiliar to Westerners’ conventional dietary needs often fed by news. Starchy, no fibre, often predictable… epic documentaries can be the five-a-day and much more in one sitting. For Sama is for a generation.
I have been in several conflict zones: Apartheid South Africa, Ghana during its flourish of coups in the 70s, Egypt, and eight years ago near the border of Syria training young Syrian filmmakers, who were part of Waad’s circle of friends. Yet, you may have no embedded popular memories of those periods.
You might have a sense of what it’s like when miners take on their bosses in Kopple’s disturbing film Harlan County, USA (1976) or that with a ban to Cuba from America, several elderly musicians showed the world Cuba’s musicality. That was Wenders’ Buena Vista Social Club (1999). You might remember them because, well, they were, made.
The men and women jurors had it in their power to make For Sama the spear point for politics today, and for ever, when generations look back. They chose differently. In judging, subjective views and politics is for ever present.
It’s a film that cannot be replicated in setting and circumstances by its maker. A couple of years before her Oscar contention, Waad stood nervous alone on the stage of the RTS, given a rousing standing ovation by attendants.
She picked up several awards including best camera person. The first time a woman, had won the category. No filming or photographs the chair of proceedings asked. I snuck my phone on record to capture the adulation.
It is for the establishment to honour her and provide a platform for her gifts at how she sees the world. The concern is how broadcasters will use an award winning filmmaker. Time will tell its tale.
We and the Oscars
The Oscars serve as a beacon for the thousands of small crafts that bob along the ocean looking for a goal and a purpose. You may not win an Oscar, but the Oscar indeed needs you, to contextualise its story.
Its story is to be above all else. Created from the word’s most exported film industry, Hollywood, it has stayed relevant because it is an institution, however institutions can atrophy.
It has stayed relevant because in all its years there has been no contender. Like the NFL Superbowl, The Olympics, there’s simply nothing like it, yet! Where might it be in twenty years time is an existential question for Start ups?
Sitting at home, munching through a packet of pringles and a cheap bottle of red, the Oscars does something else that serving as a ratings spectacle. Whomever you are? Whatever you do? Tell your story! Because of you don’t no one else will.
Within my circle of friends, we’re all network producers or former ones. We’ve picked up awards on the international stage elsewhere; our own oscars! We know a good story and we can tell one.
Indeed, we would like those commissions, we would like to leave our own legacies, our own For Samas, and we must.
So tell your own stories. It’s a line in Hamilton, the musical, “who tells your story?” — where a predominately black cast take to the stage reworking a narrative of white gilded gentry. Who tells your story? You do.