You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Iraqi Helmer Al-Daradji Explores the Mind of a Female Fanatic in Toronto Film ‘Journey’

A woman enters Baghdad’s central railway station on a December morning in 2006, with a bomb strapped to her stomach and her finger twitching over the trigger. Whether she leaves the station alive is the question at the heart of “The Journey,” the latest feature by acclaimed Iraqi helmer Mohamed Al-Daradji. The film debuted at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival Sept. 13.

Set on the day of Saddam Hussein’s execution, “The Journey” is a tense and harrowing psychological thriller that unspools entirely within the world of the railway station and its environs.

The setting offers Al-Daradji a vivid tableau of Iraqi life writ small. Much like the lives passing through its bustling concourse, and the country as a whole, Baghdad Central Station provides a rich metaphor as Al-Daradji depicts “a smaller Iraq [and] a smaller Middle East” struggling to get back on track.

While the helmer’s acclaimed sophomore feature, “Son of Babylon,” took him on an ambitious road-trip across his fractured country – and to more than 30 festivals, including Cannes, Sundance, and Berlin – his fifth feature eschews that movie’s wide-angle approach. The narrow lens gave Al-Daradji a controlled space to work in, mitigating the threat posed by militants, while posing the challenge of filming a movie whose dramas largely take place within the minds of its protagonists.

The process of making “The Journey,” he says, posed bigger questions about “who we are, where we are heading, what kind of journey we are taking as human beings.”

They are questions the helmer has been asking since he left Baghdad at the age of 17. Al-Daradji traveled for more than a year before finding refuge in the Netherlands. He later studied and lived in the U.K., from which he traveled to Iraq to lens his features.

In 2013, he made the decision to return to Baghdad, telling himself, “It’s my duty as an Iraqi to go back to the country and do something.” It was a daunting challenge. Lensing for “The Journey” was set to begin in 2014, when ISIS overran a large part of Iraq. Funding dried up, while the security situation across the country declined.

During shooting Al-Daradji had to rely on the help and good will of the Iraqi police and military, who offered protection for the cast and crew, even as ISIS was threatening to invade Baghdad. The plot of “The Journey” was kept under wraps, out of fears that a film about a would-be suicide bomber would offer a tantalizing target for militants.

The risks embody the challenges facing Al-Daradji and the small but vocal band of Iraqi filmmakers rebuilding their country’s cinema in the years since the fall of Hussein. Determined to film his shoot feature, “Ahlaam,” on the streets of Baghdad in 2004, Al-Daradji worked with a camera in one hand and an AK-47 in the other. He was kidnapped and tortured by Islamic militants twice in the same day.

He remained undaunted. In 2009, Al-Daradji partnered with the filmmaker Oday Rasheed to establish his country’s Independent Film Center, teaching young Iraqis to shoot on 35mm stock. Dozens have walked through the IFC’s doors; some of their films have gone on to screen in London, Tribeca, and Dubai.

Plans to build the country’s first film school, which were shelved as ISIS swept across Iraq in 2014, are moving forward again. Al-Daradji wants the school to be a beacon for filmmakers across the Arab world. The IFC is also lobbying the government to establish a national film fund.

There are hopeful signs all around. Since 2013, Al-Daradji has seen shopping malls with shiny new multiplexes opening across the country. While middle-class Iraqis mostly watch Egyptian laffers and Hollywood blockbusters, the helmer says it’s his dream “to encourage people to see Iraqi films at the cinema.”

More Film

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Writers Guild Expands Suit Against Agencies With New Fraud Allegations

    The Writers Guild of America has bulked up its lawsuit with additional fraud allegations against Hollywood’s four biggest talent agencies. The WGA amended its suit Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court with the claim that CAA, WME, UTA and ICM partners have engaged “constructive fraud” by allegedly placing their own interests ahead of their clients [...]

  • 'Heroes Don't Die' Review: A Peculiar,

    Cannes Film Review: 'Heroes Don't Die'

    Just when you think modern cinema has exploited the found-footage conceit from every conceivable angle, along comes a tragicomic mockumentary tracing Bosnia’s recent war-ravaged history via the travails of a young French film crew getting to the root of a reincarnated identity crisis. Aude Léa Rapin’s first narrative feature “Heroes Don’t Die” is nothing if [...]

  • Mediapro, Complutense, NFTS Team On Screenwriting

    The Mediapro Group Launches Master’s Program at Madrid’s Complutense University

    Madrid-based production hub The Mediapro Studio has announced finalized details of an arrangement with Madrid’s Complutense University (UCM) and the National Film and Television School of London (NFTS) on a new Master’s program designed to develop new screenwriting talent. Mediapro general director Juan Ruiz de Gauna, UCM dean of information sciences Jorge Clemente and Irene [...]

  • Argentina, A New Member of Co-Production

    Argentina Joins European Co-Production Fund Eurimages

    CANNES – Argentina will join the European Council’s co-production fund Eurimages as an associate member starting  on October 1 2019, it was officially announced Monday at the Cannes Film Market. The agreement was unveiled by Ralph Haiek, president of Argentine agency Incaa, Eurimages executive director Roberto Olla and the president of global producers assn. Fiapf, [...]

  • "Black Coal Thin Ice" in Berlin

    Chinese Director Diao Yinan Drills Down on 'The Wild Goose Lake'

    Diao Yinan is the only Chinese director with a film in the main competition this year at Cannes. He’s already a known entity on the arthouse circuit having won the Golden Bear in Berlin in 2014 for his hardscrabble coal-blackened detective thriller “Black Coal, Thin Ice.” Now he makes the leap to the Croisette with [...]

  • Blaise Harrison On Cannes Directors’ Fortnight

    Switzerland’s Blaise Harrison on Directors’ Fortnight Player ‘Particles’

    Swiss filmmaker Blaise Harrison is bringing his fiction feature debut to this year’s Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. Known for his documentary work, Harrison was selected for competition at the 2013 Locarno Festival for his film “Harmony,” about a marching band in the small French town of Pontarlier. “Particles” follows P.A., a teenager [...]

  • Constantin Film AG, Feilitzschstrase 6, Muenchen.

    Constantin’s Martin Moszkowicz on a New Market Realism (EXCLUSIVE)

    CANNES  —  2019’s Cannes  hit the floor running. Even after just two days of business, major sales companies were fielding offers from much of the world on top titles. After four days, quite a few were pretty confident they’d sell much of the world. Some of those deals are now being confirmed. Martin Moszkowicz, executive [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content