Seven of the best documentaries from the Arab world and how to watch them: from 'For Sama' to 'Gaza Surf Club'

Here are the films based on true stories worth adding to your must-watch list

‘For Sama’ was nominated for Best Documentary Feature in the Academy Awards. Waad Al Kateab
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As we spend more time at home, a big chunk of it is being consumed firstly by social media, and secondly by watching films and television shows.

As a result, in the past few months, many filmmakers, including those from the Arab world, have been making their works available online so more people can see them.

We round up must-watch documentaries from, and about, the Arab world, now available for viewing over the internet.

For Sama 

For Sama is an award-winning documentary feature that was shot over five years during the uprising in Aleppo, Syria. It tells the story of Waad Al Kateab as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth to her daughter, Sama, all during a catastrophic conflict. Directed by Al Khateab and Edward Watts, the film is a love letter to Sama.

It won numerous awards, including a Bafta for Best Documentary. It was also nominated for an Oscar this year, for Best Documentary Feature, but lost to American Factory. The film is available for streaming online via the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam website. 

A World Not Ours 

A World Not Ours is a brilliant documentary that takes its title from Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani's novel. Directed by Mahdi Fleifel, the film, based on Fleifel's own family story, looks at three generations living in exile in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon.

It is pieced together using a wealth of archival footage, telling a sensitive story on the themes of belonging and friendship. The documentary feature film has won several awards, including the Black Pearl Award at Abu Dhabi Film Festival in 2012. It's available to buy or rent on Vimeo or watch via the IDFA's website

Return to Homs 

This is a documentary by Oscar-nominated Syrian director Talal Derki (Of Fathers and Sons). The film follows the tragic story of Abdul Baset Al Sarout, 19, goalkeeper for the Syrian national soccer team, and his friend and journalist Ossama, 24. When the Syrian conflict breaks out, the young athlete becomes a renowned protest leader and singer who is filmed regularly by his friend Ossama. 

But when the army cracks down on Homs, the two protestors take up arms and become insurgents. Return to Homs was screened at festivals around the world and won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the Sundance festival in 2014. It is available to buy or rent on Vimeo and is also on the IDFA website.

5 Broken Cameras

Co-directed by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, 5 Broken Cameras documents the resistance of the residents of Palestinian town Bilin, west of Ramallah in the West Bank, against settlements. The story is told through the lenses of five cameras owned by Burnat, a farmer, who bought his first camera in 2005 to document the birth of his son.

The film's awards include Best Documentary at the International Emmy Awards in 2013, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature that year. It's available to rent or buy on Vimeo.

Gaza Surf Club

This documentary received its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival in 2016. Directed by Philip Gnadt and Mickey Yamine, Gaza Surf Club tells the story of a group of young boys in the Palestinian enclave who surf as a way to escape real life.

It’s a heartwarming story about finding a little bit of freedom in a place that has been described as “an open-air prison”. The film is available for streaming on video-on-demand site Cinemoz.

Cairo Drive 

Cairo Drive, directed by Sherief Elkatsha, takes viewers on a ride around the streets of the Egyptian capital, showing the diversity of the city’s population. With a bit of comedy, the film captures voices in the days leading up to the Egyptian revolution.

The film had its world premiere at Abu Dhabi Film Festival in 2013 and won the Best Documentary From the Arab World award. The film is available to buy or rent on Vimeo.

Teta, Alf Marra (Grandma, A Thousand Times) 

This charming film comes from Mahmoud Kaabour, the award-winning director of 2004 documentary Being Osama, which follows six individuals united by their first name. Teta, Alf Marra, meanwhile, celebrates Kaabour's grandmother, Teta Fatima, 83. Kaabour documents her life, as she talks of her love story with her violinist husband, who had died 20 years prior. The film is a beautiful exploration of the themes of love, family, growing old and death. It is available to buy or rent on Vimeo.