Filmmaker traces his family’s ‘odyssey’ from Iraq into diaspora


AMMAN — Like going through pages of an old photo album with the narrative of a father to his children, Samir Jamal Al Din’s documentary “Iraqi Odyssey” travels through the past century to chronicle the history of a family and their homeland.

Through the individual stories of his relatives, Samir goes through the history of the Iraqi Jamal Al Din family all the way back to the 20th century, one that cannot be untangled from the politics of the time in the war-stricken country. 

The film, which was screened by the Royal Film Commission (RFC) at the Rainbow Theatre late last week, follows members of the accomplished and well-educated family and a side of the war that the media seldom show. 

The relatives expressively reminisce about the Iraq they remember, and share happy and sad anecdotes, which were difficult to film according to the director.

“They went through hard times and some of them found it difficult to tell me what happened to them,” Samir said. “In the Arab world, we don’t really talk about the psychological effects of the things we’ve gone through.”

One by one, his aunts, uncles and cousins escaped Iraq and have since dispersed across the globe, and landed in places such as Buffalo, Auckland, New Zealand, London and Zurich, where the filmmaker and his family reside.

However, the Swiss-Iraqi director said the distance has only made them closer. 

“No matter how many of them have left Iraq and got spread all over the world, we still got closer together and built wonderful relationships.” 

The director wanted to tell the story of his family and what they went through during the country’s fight for democracy and independence, which according to him are only some examples of Iraqi people’s anguish and pain throughout the years.

“I always say that I have a responsibility towards raising awareness and letting people know about the country. I should give the public more than just a family story,” he told The Jordan Times.

Samir started collecting information and doing extensive research about his family and the history of Iraq. Relatives shared their private archive of pictures from their youth, old letters and documents. 

In addition to that, the filmmaker incorporated footage from old well-known films, songs and news clips within the documentary to give the audience a feel of each period he was documenting. 

The documentary was shortlisted by Switzerland to be their submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards. 

The film has won several awards, including the Best Asian Film Award NETPAC at Abu Dhabi Film Festival in 2014, the Public Award at the Berlinale and the Zurich Film Prize, according to the RFC.

This piece was published in The Jordan Times


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