Dokufest Prizren/ 4/ Homeland (Iraq Year Zero)

I do not recall, when was the last time that I saw a 334 minutes long documentary in a cinema. Maybe a Fred Wiseman film many many years ago? Anyway, I am very greatful to the organizers of Dokufest in Prizren that they selected this film and made me sit in the jury that was to see a film that of course is a strong candidate to an award.

It is hard to be short about a long film like this, that falls in two parts, ”Before the Fall” and ”After the Battle”. Hard because the film, a ”Documentary Unplugged” (no music or visual tricks, no use of light or tripod, the director Abbas Fahdel has done the sound himself, well he has done everything himself) is so rich of scenes and situations that could be fine to mention. What he does is to generously and in a very fine ”natural way” invite the viewer to meet his family, his big family while they are waiting, they call it ”anticipating” the war to come, preparing for having no water, cooking to have food at hand, there are many mouths to feed. They take it cool, they have tried it before during the after the Gulf War. Apart from the ”waiting for the war to come” it is normal family

life, brothers and sisters and friends teasing each other, situations of humour, television watching of Saddam, the great father of the country, the personalities are developed, they study, they are being driven to school and university or to walk around in the suq with numerous shots of faces of people working there or kids, who come to Fahdel behind the camera smiling, ”film me”. All is made in a rythm where the situations are given time before our eyes and the characters become more than characters. To get that close to daily life, as said jury colleague James Longley, who has been filming in the country, you have to be a member of the family.

The second part of the film is primarily shot from a car – the students and school boys are taken by car – for security reasons – to their respective venues and/or to places, where the director and his brother take a look at what damage the Americans have done AND what local gangs are doing looting and fighting each other.

And then I come to what makes tears come to my eyes – the main character, the one on the photo, Haidar, who stands out because of his boyish, playful way of being, his energy, his clever comments on what happens around him before and after the war… Haidar… In the first half of the film a text comes up, when he is presented, telling us that Haidar will be killed. After the war. That makes you of course look at the film and him in a complete different way. Uncle Fahdel stopped filming, when Haidar died and it took him years to get back to the material and make this film. In a tragic way the film thus has also become an homage to Life as we see it being lived and experienced through Haidar, who lived to become 12 years old. Meaningless. Apart from being a warm, funny, touching film about a family, who just want to live a decent life, you can not help thinking that it should be seen by whoever is interested in seeing, what damage we (USA and the so-called coalition forces) have done to fellow citizens of the world. 

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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