When Mohamed Al-Daradji returned to his native Iraq shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein, he found a country rife with desire for revenge. He incorporated his emotions in a film about the quest of a boy and his grandmother to find their missing father/son. Contrary to what one might expect, the theme of Son of Babylon (2009) is mutual understanding.
"I am the boy in the film," Al-Daradji explains. "The grandmother is actually my aunt. As a child, I wondered why my aunt was always crying. When I heard a report about mass graves on the radio in 2003, I finally understood. Her husband went missing during the Gulf War. That is the worst thing that can happen to a person, because in such a situation you can never have closure regarding your past."
Creating Son of Babylon was a psychological quest. "In 2006, I saw what revenge does to a country. I understood that violence can only stop when we can actually face our past, when we know what happened to the one and a half million people who went missing within a span of forty years. The film allowed me to exorcise my desire for revenge and I hope that it has the same effect on the viewers." Son of Babylon will premiere in Iraq on 6 May 2010, the day on which the country commemorates the victims of mass murders.
Al-Daradji, who made the film Ahlaam and Iraq: war, love, god and madness, is convinced that films can play an important role in exorcising the past. He is pleading for the restoration of the film industry and movie houses in his country. In 2009, he toured eight Iraqi cities with a mobile cinema. The public praised the venture, but the government did not come through with a public subsidy to continue the venture.
Son of Babylon may change this. Originally, the Iraqi government only wanted to support the film if the actor playing the main character was Arabic rather then Kurdish - a request Al-Daradji would not honour. Since the film was presented at the Berlinale, (former) Minister for the Human Rights, Wejdan Mikhail, has pledged to support the makers in their campaign to disseminate knowledge regarding Iraq's bloody past.
Son of Babylon won the Amnesty International Film Award and the Peace Film Award at the 2010 Berlinale.