Haider Rashid, who was awarded the best director prize at last year’s Red Sea Film Festival for his Cannes selected film “Europa,” was back at the event this week to pitch his new project, the coming-of-age thriller “Tigris.” The Italian-Iraqi filmmaker plans to explore themes of resistance and identity through a love story between two breakdancers in Baghdad’s underground hip-hop scene.
He hopes to build a “thematic trilogy” around “Europa,” in which a young Iraqi man tries to cross the border between Turkey and Bulgaria, but finds himself hunted by militias.
“It’s not necessarily a prequel as it’s not the same character, but it’s the same generation. This was the inception of ‘Tigris.’ How can we talk about this young generation in Iraq who were born just before or just after the 2003 war [with the U.S.]? What is their life like? How can we narrate their story in a way that becomes universal? Because I think the struggles of the youth are universal throughout the world.”
Iraq has a very young population, with 60% of its citizens being under 25. The love story told in “Tigris” will be placed against the backdrop of a series of protests led by the Iraqi youth to oppose the lack of basic services and safety, and corruption in a country where foreign-backed militias hold sway.
Rashid has chosen to use hip-hop as the film’s conducting wire. “I grew up listening to it, and I love it as a medium of expression,” he says. “And it became one of the mediums of expression of the revolution — whether it was dancing, rapping or graffiti art. It speaks to people. It’s fast and propagates concepts very easily. I love it as a subculture and I love what it entails: to have to prove yourself to have the respect of other people. It’s not about who you are, it’s about what you can do, so I think it relates to the way we think about filmmaking, too.”
It’s important to have Arab directors tell their own stories, he says. “It’s about shifting the narrative, shifting the point of view. Let’s reduce this whole debate to humanity. At the end of the day, we’re talking about a human being, whether he’s Muslim, Christian or Jewish. Who cares?”
He and “Europa” collaborator Sonia Giannetto are writing the script and taking the first steps in the casting process. Giannetto will also be the film’s creative producer.
“Tigris” is being developed by Rashid’s Radical Plans, and will be an Iraqi-Italian co-production, with the director looking to onboard other co-producers in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa region, and the U.S. Filming is hoped to happen within the next 18 to 24 months.
Speaking about the experience of pitching his project at Red Sea’s industry program, the Red Souk, he says: “A lot of us live outside our countries of origin, we are part of the [Arab] diaspora. So even sharing a bus ride together, exchanging experiences and ideas about our identities, and being able to somehow fuse that into our filmmaking is wonderful.”
“[Being at the Souk] affects the project because we have more certainty and conviction about what we’re doing. It’s important for the identity of the project to start from here because I think if we convince people over here, we can expand it better. I always ask myself: Do we have a right to tell this story? That’s really important. I think once you have the vote of confidence at a market like this, we feel more confident about the project we’re making.”