In the wake of the first Gulf War, as American soldiers left Kuwait, millions of Iraqis rose up against Saddam Hussein, only to be brutally crushed when the promised support from President George H.W. Bush fails to arrive. This is a narrative film set amidst that time, focused on an Iraqi soldier who is mistaken for a traitor and how the prison where he is held becomes a hotbed for the tragic revolt.
Why is it important to tell this forgotten saga?
For us it’s about giving a voice to people and addressing an important part of history that mainstream cinema has neglected. Many of us are familiar with the details of the Gulf War, a crisis instigated by Saddam Hussein’s government that, at the time, made world news and included the intervention of coalition forces. But the aftermath and effects of the war on the Iraqi people have remained uncovered for far too long.
The uprising of 1991 was encouraged by Bush’s administration and mounted by rebels of diverse ethnic, religious, and political groups and included military mutineers, all with the goal of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Despite initial successes, the uprising was brutally crushed by Saddam’s regime. Reprisals against the rebels were severe: one million-plus rebels and innocents were systematically murdered and buried in mass graves. To this day a majority of the victims’ bodies remain undiscovered and their whereabouts unknown.
By addressing such events and bringing these true-to-life stories to international audiences, we can impart knowledge and understanding of such atrocities. It is our hope that we can prevent such acts from happening again through awareness.
Why do you think Americans have conveniently forgotten that this happened?
The U.S. government under George H.W. Bush actively encouraged the uprising, promising their support to the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam’s regime. Despite initial successes against loyalist forces (especially in the south of Iraq), American support against Saddam never materialized. The Bush administration, after encouraging the uprising, declared a policy of non-intervention in the conflict and even went as far as to lift the flight zone ban, allowing Saddam to fly his planes and crush the uprising — a decision that many Iraqis, understandably, remain bitter about to this day. The decision by the Bush administration to abandon the rebels was condemned internationally as well as by U.S citizens — yet the uprising was quickly forgotten. Whether this was a convenience for Americans is debatable. The fact that there was little to no U.S or coalition presence in Iraq at the time meant that the uprising went largely unrecorded, undocumented, and unseen by international audiences and as such, faded quietly into history.
Did we miss an opportunity to get Saddam out?
There was certainly a missed opportunity to overthrow Saddam — essentially the rebels had him on the run, but without support and organization, the uprising was suppressed. The outcome of the uprising was disastrous and Saddam remained in power for a further 12 years, a further 12 years of suffering for the Iraqi people. It was not until the 2003 intervention that he was overthrown.
Is life better or worse for Iraqis today than it was in the 1990s?
Iraq has seen a lot of change over the past 20 years. Certainly the fall of Saddam paved the way for progress in the country and marked the installment of a democratic government. People now experience a freedom that they never could under Saddam, though restrictions continue to be imposed on the population. From 2003 until 2011, the Iraqi government acted in accordance with coalition forces, essentially being an occupied country. In recent years, Iraq has bared witness to an increase in extremist groups and sectarian violence and tensions are becoming ever more heightened.
The current situation involving ISIS in the North of Iraq and close to Baghdad is testament to the country’s disorganization and past troubles — the organization’s indiscriminate murder of civilians is reminiscent of the atrocities carried out by Saddam Hussein’s government in the 1990s. Iraq needs time to adjust to its relatively new-found freedom, but it is our hope and the hope of the international community that the future of Iraq is a safe and peaceful one for its population. But whilst there is still oil in the sands of Babylon, we have to question whether Iraqis will ever be able to live in peace?
Is it a hard to film in Iraq?
Simply put, filming in Iraq is difficult. There are very few facilities catering to filming in the country so equipment, film stock, experienced crew, and back up all need to be brought in from abroad. Once the team are out in Iraq, we have to deal with challenges as they arise, of which there are plenty. If there is a camera or equipment malfunction, we need to be resourceful and fix the problems ourselves.
Our feature projects are always shot on 35mm film — this is not readily available in Iraq and there are no processing labs so film canisters must be shipped to us and then shipped to our lab in Europe. This is a very anxious time, as we cannot find out if all the hard work of filming has been fruitful until we get the digitized versions back from the lab.
Essentially, parts of Iraq are still a warzone — sectarian and extremist violence is all around, so obviously it is vital to consider the safety of the crew when filming. There have been times when it was necessary to hire a security escort.
But just like any other film project, it’s never easy.
How has the film been received around the world?
So far the film has been extremely well received. In Iraq, people are glad that their story has finally been told — many Iraqi citizens are still reluctant to talk about these events for themselves, whether it be through fear for their safety or through grief. In Europe we have had a string of successful screenings and audience and festival feedback has been very positive. The film offers an opportunity to gain an insight into the issues that Iraq has faced and gives audiences a unique perspective that cannot be achieved/has not been covered by western media.
The screening at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival will be the U.S premiere and it is our hope that we spark an international dialogue with festival goers. It is an important film and given the current situation in Iraq, it is extremely relevant. We are positive that it will make for a great focal point and that audiences will find it to be a unique, compelling and thought provoking account of one of Iraq’s (and the world’s) forgotten chapters.