Acclaimed Yorkshire feature returns to Bagdhad for screening

Written by Nic Wistreich on . Posted in Documentary

ahlaam posterLeeds-based filmmaker Mohamed Al Daradji has returned to Baghdad, where he shot his Oscar-shortlisted debut feature Ahlaam, screening it to over a 1000 locals and politicans at the national cinema. The journey has been documented by the filmmaker and is currently showing on Al Jazeera UK on Sky (details below).

"It's about human stories... The Iraqi people change from being just a number used by the media as a way to fill out the news to becoming normal human beings."
Mohamed Al Daradji

Ahlaam, from Northern production company Human Film has been highly praised throughout its festival run, and is one of the more remarkable independent filmmaking stories of recent years. Daradji, inspired to film in Iraq following a dream he had after watching  BBC News, on a micro-budget used a cast and crew of largely untrained Iraqis to recreate both pre- and mid-war Baghdad to tell the story of three Iraqis left to survive in an asylum during the 'shock and awe' campaign. Kidnapped by both the insurgents and the US military (who each accused him of being a stooge of the other), Mohamed worked on set with a machine gun in one hand and camera in the other and was almost executed in his attempts to bring this heartbreaking human story to screen.

While support in the UK has been slow, news has emerged in recent weeks that director Antonio Bird (Face, Ravenous, The Hamburg Cell) is to produce Daradji's next film Umm Hussein, which follows a mother across Iraq as she searches for her son. The project has already been selected for the Sundance writers lab. Post production on Shooting In Iraq, which documents the  story of the making of Ahlaam, is also moving ahead, which has to be one of the most eagerly awaited behind the scenes since Eleanor Coppola's Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse. In further good news Human Film have announced that the Ahlaam will be released in France, Spain and the UK later this year. We hope to publish an interview with Mohamed, conducted earlier in the year, very soon.

Trip of Dreams is showing on Al Jazeera, Sky Channel 514 on Wednesday 6th June 00:30, 11:30, 20:30; Thursday 7th June 05:30, 19:30; Friday 8th June 03:00, 16:30; Saturday 9th June 06:30 

Iraqi film strikes cord at home

Hundreds brave attacks to watch film

When Iraqi helmer Mohamed al-Daradji bowed his debut feature in Baghdad on April 18, it was the culmination not just of the usual filmmaking travails but of far more hazardous circumstances.

"Ahlaam," which follows three Iraqis in an asylum caught up in the U.S. "shock and awe" bombardment, is only the country's second post-Saddam feature to hit the bigscreen.

More than a thousand Iraqis, including cast and crew, members of Iraq's beleaguered artistic community and government officials, braved fears of terror attacks to attend the screening at Baghdad's National Theater.

It took Al-Daradji 2½ years after lensing on location in Baghdad to finally show "Ahlaam" to his fellow Iraqis. His difficulties getting the film completed -- he was kidnapped and tortured by insurgents -- continued right up to the screening. The day of the preem some 200 people were killed in Baghdad by insurgent attacks.

Al-Daradji spent two days in dusk-to-dawn preparations with the theater's out-of-practice projectionists to get the film reels to work,and the electricity cut out in the theater 10 minutes into the screening; even when it was restored he only had one mono speaker to fill an auditorium that seats over a thousand.

Still, says al-Daradji, the audience was rapt.

"I've been to over 40 festivals, and won prizes in Japan, the U.K., the U.S. and Moscow, but I've never been to a screening of my film that was like this one," says al-Daradji, who previously made shorts. "I couldn't imagine how it would feel. People were crying throughout. It was a dream come true."


Antonia Bird will produce Daradji's next Iraqi feature 

Antonia Carver in Cannes for

24 May 2007


  Mohammed Daradji has arrived in Cannes fresh from location scouting in

The young Baghdad-born director, who had festival success with his
first feature Ahlaam (Dreams), 2005, has teamed up with British
director-producer Antonia Bird to produce his second film, also to be shot
in the war-torn country.

Bird, who has a particular interest in the region following her 2004 film
The Hamburg Cell, about the the lead-up to 9/11, has a slate of Middle
East-themed projects in development, as an advisor, a producer and

Iraqi director Daradji takes his script for Umm Hussain to the Sundance
Lab next month, and aims to be shooting in Iraq by the end of the year.

The ambitious project is co-produced by French producer Dimitri de Clercq,
Palestinian director-producer Rashid Mashawari, and Daradji's
UK/Iraq-based company Human Film, with Bird executive producing.

They have support from Screen Yorkshire, the Royal Jordanian Film Commission, and are in discussions with the UK's New Cinema Fund. "There are 18 cities in
Iraq and not all are at war. We're planning to shoot in the south of the
country where it's quite safe at the moment, and may do some scenes in
Jordan. I insist on shooting in Iraq - it's the only way to really tell
the story."

The film tells the story of a mother, Umm Hussain, who travels from
Kurdistan to the south of Iraq with her young grandson in 2003, after the
American invasion, to find her son, who disappeared during the Saddam

Daradji plans to travel to Iraq in July to conduct workshops aimed
at finding and training a local crew in preparation for the shoot later in
the year. This informal film school is sponsored by Kodak.