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The 71st  Berlinale International Film Festival will be held March 1–5 (market) & June 9–20, 2021.
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Iraq's Buried Memories

 

In a first for the Berlinale, a film from Iraq had its world premiere last evening in the Panorama section. SON OF BABYLON, co-written and directed by Mohamed Al-Daradji, is a stirring drama about coming to terms with tragedy and moving forward despite the burden of personal loss. Filmed in stark poetic set pieces, the film follows the journey of a Kurdish grandmother and her precocious grandson as they travel (mostly on foot) to discover the fate of the boy's father, who has been missing for over 12 years. Set in the period immediately after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein (although there is no view of American or Allied soldiers in one frame of the film), the film chronicles the true story that emerges of the hundreds of thousands of Kurdish prisoners whose identities were lost to their families until the discovery of mass graves.

For young Ahmed, the search is partly a game, as he moves through the garbage and detritus of a country clearly in crisis. His youth somehow protects him from the true horror that surrounds him until a final shattering scene at the site of a mass grave when the implications become clear that his father was probably one of the lost. For Moslems, who have very clear rituals about death and preservation for the after-life, the desecration of mass graves is a terrible burden for the young boy and the man's mother  to bear.

The film's humanistic tone is meant to portray the anguish of those adrift in a country where the old rules no longer apply. The anger here is expressed at Sadaam Hussein and the Ba'ath Party, who tortured and killed hundreds of thousands of their own people (including Kurds and political opponents). Ironically, it is only after the invasion of the country by Western forces that the true horror of the internal genocide become clear. As we watch young Ahmed forced to grow up quickly in the face of such horror, the film ends on a melancholy but hopeful note, realizing that there is no direction home other than moving forward.

Director Al-Daaradji was born in Baghdad in 1978 where he studied art before moving to the Netherlands to take up film studies at Hilversum Media Academy and the Northern Film Schools in Leeds, England. He made his mark in making commercials and music videos, before returning to his native country in 2003 to make his feature debut AHLAAM. With SON OF BABYLON, he reveals a mature handling of difficult material that is quietly moving and blisteringly revealing.

The film itself is a true hybrid in terms of production monies, having received funds from the UK Film Council, the Rotterdam Film Fund and the CNC, as well as development coin from the Sundance Institute, the Rotterdam Film Festival and the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. It is being represented internationally by French sales company Roissy Films. At the screening, director Al-Daradji introduced the Iraqi Human Rights Director who announced the creation of a foundation dedicated to exploration of the killings and disappearances under the Saddam Hussein regime as a way for Iraqis to come to grip with this tragic part of their recent history and for the  world to be aware of a genocide that it barely acknowledged in the past.

Sandy Mandelberger, Berlinale Dailies Editor 

 

 

 

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Berlin 2019: The dailies from the Berlin Film Festival brought to you by our team of festival ambassadors. Vanessa McMahon, Alex Deleon, Laurie Gordon, Lindsay Bellinger and Bruno Chatelin...
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