EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling directors who have films screening at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.
Four years ago, Baghdad-born Mohamed Al-Daradjireturned how after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, and directed the award-winning narrative feature “Ahlaam.” The experience of shooting in the film was so challenging that Al-Daradji made a documentary about it. The result, “War, Love, God & Madness,” is screening in the World Documentary Feature Competition at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. Al-Daradji talked to indieWIRE about the film, and his hopes for the festival.
In the Tribeca catalog, TFF artistic director Peter Scarlet writes, “[the film] provides a harrowing and unforgettable portrayal of the extraordinary ordeals Al-Daradji and his indomitable colleagues were forced to endure, including interrogation and torture. Struggling against time, persecution, imprisonment, injuries, and terrorist attacks, the cast and crew struggle on and, miraculously, manage to finish the film.”
What initially attracted you to filmmaking?
I used to watch the old films of Iraq before Saddam Hussien stopped filming in Iraq. As a child this made me wonder what Iraq must have been like before war. Filming my country is my way of understanding what has happened there and also to create hope through film, something magical happens when a camera rolls in a country, it means there is life and hope.
What was the inspiration for this film?
After Saddam’s Regime was overthrown in 2003, I went back home to Iraq. On my arrival, I found utter chaos and was really shocked by the sight of mentally-ill patients wandering helpless on the streets of Baghdad. It inspired me to write a fiction film called “Ahlaam” whilst making the film what was happening behind the camera was more dramatic and couldn’t be ignored.
I thought I could create a film for my country and make my family proud. Filming in Iraq, it was my hope to help my countrymen re-define their future and show that growth can come through the revolution of culture, bridging the divides that war has created. Above all, I want to give hope to my family and do my part for Iraq. At times I fear the grief and sacrifice I caused my family may not have been worth it and so making this documentary is a way to find peace.
This film I hope is finally the Iraqi people’s chance to show the world their side of the fence, told by the people that live there and not by an outsider looking in. I hope this film will give me the meaning and the some answers to the last three years of my life, the war, the love, God, and my losses and madness.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.
“War, Love, God & Madness” as with my first film “Ahlaam” is a gritty, behind the scenes look at my dream to create opportunities and hope in Iraq. I hope to open the world’s eyes to what is really going on in a country destroyed by wars, politics and oil in the hope we can learn from it and not have it happen again by keeping its as real as possible.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
Although it was draiing for me to face the footage on a daily basis and took a lot from me, the greatest struggle was during production when we constantly faced by unimaginable circumstances with no money, Struggling against time, persecution, imprisonment, injuries, terrorist attacks and the American army, our own survival sometimes took over.
What are your goals for the Tribeca Film Festival?
Hopefully to generate a lot of press and awareness of the film and let people see the real Iraq and Iraqis in the US. Also it is a massive oppertunity to show the need and potential for foreign language films in the states and the rest of the world. To put a real face on what is happening outside our comforts zone. We want the industry to get behind this film and showcase it and not be affraid of it being a “difficult film” outside the festival circuit.