By Sophie Squire
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An Iraqi story about war but without any soldiers

Iraqi film, Our river...Our sky powerfully states that behind every war are people caught up in deadly conflict
Issue 2877
Our river our sky

Darina Al Joundi stars in Iraqi film Our River our Sky

Our River… Our Sky, a new Iraqi film, tells the story of Baghdad families amid US occupation and sectarian killings. Director Maysoon Pachachi’s new film is a snapshot of struggling families in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2006.

It is set three years after the US invasion, by which time occupation forces had installed a deeply sectarian political system that led to violence and misery.

In the religiously mixed neighbourhood where the film is set, one of the first scenes shows a car pulling up in a street and the driver detonating an explosive device.

It’s a shocking opening that puts the audience on edge for the remainder of the film. And while Pachachi vividly depicts the horror of this time, this is not a film about war. It’s about people trying to survive conflict.

Darina Al Joundi stars as Sara, a former novelist. She used to tell stories about the lives of those who call Baghdad home. Early in the film she argues with an old professor of hers and asks that amid such horror, how can she still write about the mundane?

This experience is partly inspired by the film’s co-writer Irada Al-Jubori, a novelist and a poet who, like Sara, lost the ability to write in the years after the invasion.

Yet, as the film makes clear, the everyday stories of those living during this period were, and still are, of vital importance.

The film weaves together a host of different narratives. One character, Dijla, discovers that the man she has been dating has a wife and children.

Another, Yahya, finds himself at a moral crossroads when he uncovers that his architecture firm is engaging in unsafe building practices.

In a recent interview Pachachi explained that she wanted to challenge the perception of Iraqis living in Baghdad.

“Those who haven’t lived through all that (the US invasion of Iraq) just see them as victims,” she said.

“They don’t see that some sort of warmth carries on between people, that they still care for each other.

“This is one way of survival, of resistance. Of saying, ‘You won’t break us apart. Despite everything, we will remain a family’.”

This attempt to humanise and tell the stories of those caught up in the carnage of war cuts sharply against the depictions of Iraqi people in Hollywood films.

Blockbusters, such as American Sniper and The Hurt Locker, push their audiences to sympathise with American invaders, while dehumanising Iraqis.

That isn’t art, it’s propaganda disguised as entertainment – and its aim is to justify US imperialism. But in this film you don’t meet a single US soldier. Characters mention them throughout, but this is not their story.

And this attempt to give a voice to Iraqis is important for another reason.

Pachachi presents Baghdad in ways opposite to the way the city is depicted by the West. It is a place the film’s characters connect with on a deep, emotional level.

“People (in the West) sit in their living rooms and watch war footage,” notes Pachachi, “but how can they know what everyday life is like there—how people find resilience and resistance, not just to survive but to live.

“I want my films to break that wall and encourage empathy.” And, Pachachi says she hopes her film will spark compassion for all refugees.

“It’s to say… for refugees it’s not a matter of, ‘Oh well, I’ll go and live in France, they’ve got better healthcare there’.” she said.

“It’s a matter of you’re driven to it and there’s an enormous loss when you leave.”

With the Tories daily escalating their attacks on migrants, this attempt to show what drives people to flee their homes is particularly poignant.

  • Our River…Our Sky is in cinemas from this Friday

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