Homeland (Iraq Year Zero)

- IRAQ, FRANCE / 2015 / Arabic / Color / DCP / 334 min

Director, Photography, Editing, Sound, Source: Abbas Fahdel

In spring 2003, in Baghdad, a large family’s everyday life went on calmly even with the foreboding of war. Following the invasion by coalition forces, the family came back from evacuation to their bomb-shattered town, to a life where death constantly walked by their side. In the course of watching this record of two years of their lives, we become aware of how war can start imperceptibly in daily existence, and of how abruptly we can suffer the losses and deaths of those close to us.

[Director’s Statement] Once called Mesopotamia (the country of two rivers: the Tigris and Euphrates), Iraq was the cradle of civilization. It is there that writing, agriculture, astronomy and laws were invented; where the first towns and villages appeared; the land of Noah, Abraham, Nebuchadnezzar, Hammurabi, Haroun al-Rashid and the 1001 Arabian Nights. At the time of the splendors of Assyria, Sumer, Babylon and Baghdad, it long shone on the world.

The Americans who invaded Iraq in 2003 were unaware of the rich past of the country and its civilization. Scanning the ground for the supposed weapons of mass destruction, they could have discovered another reality: beneath the dunes, the world’s oldest cities; scattered amidst the bomb craters, humanity’s first texts; behind Iraq, Mesopotamia and the Bible’s Paradise Lost; covered by the dictator Saddam posters, the patriarch Abraham’s silhouette.

Iraq is my childhood and adolescence, my lost homeland. Its name reminds me of dear faces, familiar places, lights, colours, fragrances, and also the spirit that lives under its sky, in its air and all that makes this country an eternal source of inspiration for me.

In 2002, with threats of a new war intensifying, I left my Paris refuge to return to Iraq. Filming is an act of life; by filming my family and my friends on the eve of invasion, I maintained the superstitious hope of preserving them from danger.

Leaving again four days before the outbreak of war, I returned a few weeks later to film the new reality, of a country delivered into chaos and rocked by violence, a violence that plunged my own family into mourning.

Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) is not just the result of many months of filming and editing, but also of many years of incubation during which I carried Iraq in my mind and in my heart. Both a personal expression and a projection of a human reality, the film is a kind of nodal point between the personal and the collective, between emotion and knowledge. Adopting an intimate approach to Iraq’s recent (hi)story, the film aims to give it a universal resonance, through images and not speeches. I wanted to preserve that which can touch the viewer anywhere in the world, without pathos or voyeurism.

- Abbas Fahdel

Iraqi-French director, screenwriter and critic, born in Babylon. Now based in France, he got his cinema PhD at the Sorbonne University. In 2002, he returned to Iraq and filmed the documentary Back to Babylon (2002), in which he asked himself: “What have my childhood friends become? What would my life have been like if I hadn’t chosen to build my destiny elsewhere?” The next year he returned to an Iraq shaken by violence, the dictatorship’s nightmare replaced by the American occupation’s chaos, related in his second documentary, We Iraqis (2004). In 2008, he directed the feature film Dawn of the World, a war-drama which recounts how the Gulf Wars have dramatically damaged an area that is the geographic location of the Biblical Garden of Eden. Homeland is his return to documentary cinema.