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Mohamed Al-Daradji • Director

“Dialogue is the most effective way to deal with extreme violence”

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- TORONTO 2017: We chatted to Iraqi filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji, who presented his third film, The Journey, in Contemporary World Cinema at Toronto

Mohamed Al-Daradji  • Director

After gaining international attention with his previous films, Ahlaam (2006) and Son of Babylon [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
 (2010), Iraqi filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji presented his third film, The Journey [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Mohamed Al-Daradji
film profile
]
, in the Contemporary World Cinema section of the recent 42nd Toronto International Film Festival. We talked to the director about terrorism, his personal experience and the difficulties inherent in co-producing a film in Iraq.

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Cineuropa: Was it easy to focus on the reasons that drive someone to prepare to carry out a suicide attack? Are there any differences when it is a woman doing it?
Mohamed Al-Daradji: This was the hardest challenge for both me and my co-writer, Isabelle Stead – putting ourselves in the shoes of a woman who is planning to commit an unthinkable act. Why would she choose to become a suicide bomber? Is it the promise of retribution or living a meaningful life? Is the reason religious, helping to build an Islamic utopia, or the promise of marriage in paradise? Does it empower a woman? What makes these women become the foot soldiers of the patriarchy? The Journey creates an opportunity to open up the discussion around this subject.

As an Iraqi filmmaker, I felt a responsibility to fully explore a topic I cannot comprehend, and understand what lies behind these acts. Dialogue is the most effective way of dealing with extreme violence where other counter-terrorism measures have failed.

We know that your source of inspiration was a real-life event. Could you elaborate a little more on that aspect?
In 2008, around the time I was preparing my film Son of Babylon, I read a news article about a female suicide bomber. Five minutes before the bomb was due to explode, she entered a police station full of remorse and confessed her intentions to the police. They stripped her of her clothes and tied her to the gates outside the station. She was just 16 years old. The image troubled me deeply. A girl so young caught up in something so sinister. From all the corners of the earth, similar stories started coming in: In Moscow, on 29 March 2010, two women bombed two subway stations, killing 38 people and injuring a further 60. It occurred to me that female suicide bombers could potentially be one of the greatest international threats that any country could face, especially Iraq.

The female suicide bomber is invisible, untouchable – she is an unsuspecting asset to extremist missions. Many are preyed on and brainwashed by extremist factions operating in Iraq, throughout the Middle East and across the world. We start life innocently, so what changes a person and drives them to commit such an extreme and atrocious act?

Coming from Iraq, did you have any related personal experience?
Having fled my homeland at 16 as a refugee in search of a safer life, I couldn’t believe it when the London attacks of 7/7 occurred. Nor could I believe that the instigators of these crimes were in fact my neighbours in Leeds. The attacks illustrated the fragility of any society under the threat of extremism. A decade on from the 7/7 bombings, terrorism is a bigger problem now than it was then. As groups like ISIS continue to undermine the progress of multiculturalism here in the UK, we continue to see more young people abandon their homes and families to join sinister causes abroad. Earlier in 2015, three British schoolgirls ran away from home to Syria to join ISIS, encouraged by empty promises and false intentions. Is this a result of Britain’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq? Its aftermath cannot be overstated; it will continue to serve ISIS with a justification for their activities, which plague our news on a daily basis with horrific attacks and subsequent retaliations on a global scale. It is reasonable to question whether, without the invasion, my main character Sara's journey would have taken place.

As a producer, what were the challenges that you had to face in order to finish The Journey?
Filmmaking in Iraq requires a tirelessly independent spirit. As we build our narratives, we are also rebuilding a shattered industry anew – we had to ship everything to Iraq. Our method strives to create authenticity, by using Iraqi non-professional actors and favouring real people, local crews and locations, and creating an intense cinematic realism. For authenticity purposes, we conducted extensive interviews with actual female suicide bombers. We carried out creative, technical and logistical location exploration in order to shoot in Baghdad's iconic central station. My challenge was to tell this story with just one shooting location: the train station.

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