It just got political as The Franco/Arab Film Festival censors ‘Son of Babylon’ director’s letter and petition to audience
By Kathryn Wilson
Iraq’s Missing Campaign
The day before award-winning Iraqi Film ‘Son of Babylon’ was set to have its Jordanian premiere and open The Franco/Arab Film Festival in Amman the organisers of the festival told the filmmakers that they would not allow the director’s letter to be read to the film’s audience. The festival pulled the film moments before its premiere leaving audiences angered and incensed.
The customary letter in question from director Mohamed Al-Daradji made apologies for the director’s absence and to inform the audience that the film and its associated Iraq’s Missing People’s campaign (IMC) petition have been launched in an effort to raise awareness of the hundreds of thousands of missing Iraqis who have disappeared in Iraq over the past 40 years.
Al-Daradji’s ‘Son of Babylon’, the highly acclaimed Berinlale multi award-winning feature film takes the audience on a journey through Iraq in 2003. Saddam Hussein has fallen and on hearing the news that prisoners of war have been found alive in the South, Ahmed, a young boy and his grandmother, Um-Ibrahim, set out to uncover the fate of the boy’s father, one of the many soldiers who never returned home after the 1991 Gulf War. From the mountains of the North to the southern sands of Babylon, as his grandmother struggles to accept an awful truth, Ahmed retraces the footsteps of a father he never knew.
The film is a sensitive road movie that shows with iconic images and situations, the search for healing after a reign of terror and war in a devastated country. Despite the tragic circumstances of the film, its lighter, more humorous moments arouse compassion. The film invites hope for reconciliation in Iraq that audiences globally are connecting with.
The IMC’s petition, an initiative of the Iraq’s Missing Peoples Organisation, was founded by the production companies: Human Film company & Iraq Al-Rafidian who during the research of their film ‘Son of Babylon’, realised that no international organisations were successfully raising awareness about Iraq’s missing people.
The contents of the letter and the petition have already been read and commended by the international film community at festivals such as Seattle IFF, Serbia, Berlin, Sundance and Edinburgh IFF, Rabat IFF 2010 in support of the filmmakers passion and commitment to the message of their film and associated campaign as they break new grounds globally for social impact fiction films in order to inform audiences through the power of cinema and fiction.
The Franco/Arab Film festival wrote “we came to the conclusion that reading your letter as such and spreading the petition was not relevant within our event…. it’s not the right place” the festival went on to write it: “was political …and not related to cinema”, choosing to ignore the filmmakers voices and humanitarian intent. The festival’s decision has saddened and disappointed the filmmakers that worked hard for 4 years to bring this film and its message to light and who hold the right to express their reasons behind the making of the film to the audience. Ironically it appears that the stand taken by the organisers of the festival are political and it raises the question of who or what it is they are protecting. How long will it be that the fate of the Iraqis and their history are decided upon by external forces if silence continues and the truth is never allowed to be spoken?
Meanwhile the filmmakers are now planning to host an independent screening of ‘Son of Babylon’ and fundraiser for the IMC in Jordan.
The Director’s letter to the festival:
Salam Aleykum Amman,
I am so sorry that I cannot be with you now to represent my film ‘Son of Babylon’. I am now busy with our associated campaign: The Iraq’s Missing Persons Campaign that seeks both to support relatives of missing persons in Iraq and help them find answers as to the fate of loved ones, that have fallen victim under the hands of war, dictatorship and occupation.
When I was casting for my main character I met a Iraqi Kurdish woman Shehzad who plays Um-Ibrahim in Son of Babylon, she was not a professional actor. For 22 years she has been searching for her husband who went missing while she spent 5 years in prison: losing her baby during this time. This woman is still in Iraq today searching for her husband. She told me she cannot live in peace and she cannot look to the future until she cleans the wounds from her past by finding out the fate of her husband. This for Shezad will be her justice so she can have the courage to forgive. Shezhad accepted to play this role, not for fame or money but because this was her life.
In Iraq today, there are an estimated 1 million people missing, presumed dead who have not been identified. Hundred’s of thousands of bodies have been excavated from over 300 mass graves and only a few have been identified. Yet, despite the growing importance of human rights and international law in world affairs, it appears that the international and the Arab community remains complacent toward crimes of the scale inflicted on Iraqis. As an Iraqi, I wonder could this be the single greatest obstruction to securing peace and reconciliation in Iraq my motherland?
I am hoping that anyone who has seen this film will spare just a minute to take further action and sign our petition, which calls on members of the international community to recognise the extent of the crimes and prosecute those responsible as a matter of urgency. Please read and sign our online petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/iraqs-missing-campaign For more information and how to take further action please visit our website at www.iraqsmissing.org, email: email@example.com
The film and the campaign wish to recognise the genocide in Iraq so we can look to the future not with revenge but with justice and forgiveness. This is the true power and voice of cinema and you.
Shokran Jazeelan to the Royal Film Commission in Amman and the support they have shown the film through their RAWI Script writing Lab and training workshop to train the Iraqi with Jordan filmmakers sponsored by them and HRS Princess Reem Al Ali for her support to us and all and thank to Festival Coordination Committee for Iraq for screening SON OF BABYLON today.