Life After the Fall
- 1st prize- Munich International Documentary Film Festival 2008
- Golden Hawk-Arab film festival Rotterdam 2008
- Best documentary film- Arab film festival California 2008
- Second best Documentary – Gulf film festival 2009
“Film which starts as a personal video diary becomes a universal statement about life in war-time circumstances. The director Kasim Abid succeeds in giving an authentic vision of daily family life through which he gives an account of hopes and disillusionment in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein”.
(Jury statement at at the Munich International Documentary Film Festival, 2008)
“Life After the Fall is a heart-breaking film because it is a heartbroken film. Just before she flees her country, Kasim’s sister Ilham sits stunned and says to camera: “After the fall, we would sit on our balcony and talk about the future of Iraq. We had high hopes. My husband used to say – Dubai, the Gulf [states] will be nothing compared to Iraq… But in the end everything failed. We didn’t benefit at all. The country didn’t get better or rebuilt, it just got destroyed some more.”
(Johann Hari -The Independent)
“What makes Life after the Fall so different from other films dealing with similar subject matter is the fact that while Iraq is probably the most-filmed country in the world today, very little of what is broadcast on our TV screens truly reflects life inside the nation. “I knew I had access to the country, being an Iraqi and a member of this family,” Abid commented. “I know that I’m showing the world what it doesn’t normally see on TV. And I didn’t want the viewer to feel sorry for the Iraqis. Instead, I wanted him or her to feel empathy.”
(Amira Howeidy-Al Hhram Weekly)
It is through the lens of his camera that the viewer comes to the strange if originally unspectacular realisation that after years of TV images, Hollywood films and media bombardment, here is a picture of Iraq, specifically Baghdad, through the eyes of Iraqis. Here are the images of the mundane: a residential street devoid of tanks and soldiers; a young woman lamenting the life forced upon her by the chaos of her homeland and then slightly smirking at the camera with good-natured forbearance as her father scorns her alleged mistreatment of a car that is “the envy of everyone”; a stunned gathering before a TV set displaying the carnage in a town where two employees of the family business had been sent for the day; the mourning of Abid’s brother who is killed in sectarian violence. It is the gradual unravelling of the family beneath the onslaught of unspeakable violence.
(Jeffrey R Sipe – The National New papers)
Filming in Iraq: ‘It’s not just abstract explosions and body parts’
When Kasim Abid drove over the Iraqi border in the summer of 2003, he had no idea how his family would react to the return of their son. Abid was born into a Baghdad Shia family, but his relatives had in many ways become foreigners to him.
For the past 25 years, Abid had lived the life of an exile: first in Moscow training to be a cameraman, then in London, where he eventually became an established filmmaker.
During the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein’s henchmen would often barge into the home of Abid’s family, asking why young Kasim was not fighting on the front like his four brothers. His absence from the war meant that a return to Iraq was impossible.
But then, in March 2003, the US-led invasion ousted Saddam’s regime. Armed with a few bits of basic filming equipment, Abid and a fellow Iraqi filmmaker, Maysoon Pachachi, headed back to their homeland.
Their original plan had been to set up an independent film school that would teach young Iraqis how to document the historical times in which they were living. But as soon as Abid walked through the wrought-iron gates of his family’s east Baghdad home, he knew that there was a film that he, too, needed to make.
“The moment I returned to Iraq, it’s a difficult feeling to describe,” he says, sipping espresso in a Bloomsbury café in London. “I hadn’t seen some of my family members for more than 20 years, and I had this strange feeling of being both close to them but also far away. They felt like a different generation – the way they talked, the experiences they had been through. I knew very quickly that they were ideal characters for a film.”
While the cameras of the international news agencies concentrated on the death and destruction they found in Iraq – the anonymous bloody pools left by suicide bombings, the bullet-ridden cars of the latest ambush – Abid turned his lenses away from the streets and on to his own family.
The result is Life After the Fall, a two-and-a-half hour portrayal of one family’s attempt to survive in Baghdad as the city descended into anarchy. For Abid, who spent much of his film career shooting the daily lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, filming his countrymen seemed like the natural thing to do.
“By filming ordinary Iraqis, we are able to show the outside world that we’re just the same as anyone else,” he says. “I wanted to make a film that concentrated on the human experience, one that showed the audience that Iraqis are real people, not abstract explosions and body parts.”
Major events, such as the capture of Saddam Hussein, are portrayed through the eyes of one family: whooping with joy as they watch the former dictator’s medical examination; desperately calling relatives to make sure that the latest bombing, a distant tower of smoke on the horizon, has not claimed the lives of anyone they know.
“There is no ordinary day in Iraq,” says Abid when asked how his family coped with the stress. “Every day is an enormous challenge. Even something like taking your kids to school or buying vegetables at the market can be an extremely dangerous challenge. But we have no choice.”
Only when his youngest brother, Ali, is abducted and murdered during the de facto civil war that broke out on Baghdad’s streets following the bombing of a Shia holy shrine in Samarra does the violence suddenly come to the Abid family’s doorstep.
“You can see in the film how the mood changes from jubilation and optimism to despair, anger and disappointment,” he says. “It shows how Iraqis were desperate for a change, but in the end we got more of the same – or perhaps worse.”
But despite the tragedy that has befallen Iraq and his family, Abid is determined to continue teaching the next generation of Iraqis the skills he has learnt as a documentary-maker.
His and Maysoon’s Independent Film and Television College, based in a dusty office of two rooms up three flights of stairs on a central Baghdad roundabout, has trained more than 70 students in the art of filmmaking. Its students have produced 21 short documentaries, on a variety of day-to-day experiences, such as one family’s story of selling their goods before fleeing to Syria, or a day in the life of a Baghdad doctor.
One film tells the story of the poets and artists of Baghdad’s Al Mutanabi Street, who used to congregate at the famous Shabbandar Café until militants blew it up last year. Emad Ali, the young director, had just finished filming when the militants struck; he went back to document the bomb’s aftermath, where he was shot in the leg and chest. Miraculously, he survived. He has since taken A Candle for the Shabbandar Café to film festivals around the world.
The college is funded through foundation grants and individual donations, in order to keep it independent from any governmental control. Despite the lack of resources and equipment, Abid believes that Iraqis have a duty to keep the cameras rolling.
“There is a Chinese proverb that I am very fond of,” he says, finishing off the last drop of espresso. “‘Light a candle instead of cursing the dark’. It means you don’t change things by just talking about it.”
(Jerome Taylor- The Independent & The Independent on Sunday)
Viewers’ reaction post Life After the Fall screening and broadcast by Channel Four
“I was deeply moved by your film…It is very courageous to lay bare the deepest emotions and traumas of your own family. Also perhaps the only way an outsider can begin to
understand what is happening in Iraq as it is completely different from the vision of a visitor however engaged and perceptive.”(Victoria Birkbeck)
“I was at the Frontline last night and was really touched by your film. There was no need to apologise for the length; it’s so rare to see a film that’s so courageously slow-paced to start with and creates so much space all the way through – it was very beautiful and powerful. Congratulations.” (Laura Mcnaught).
“It was a privilege for me and my family to watch your documentary last night. We were all moved by the sincerity and the emotions encapsulated in the film and the human story told so touchingly without political rhetoric. It will be a great success on TV as it is a different perspective from inside the soul of Iraq and Iraqis. Your family are so bright and so dignified throughout the years and the events which make it impossible not to feel a bond and an affinity with them through the story. The nieces are particularly adorable! I wish them all a safe and hopeful future. Congratulations on your successes (very well deserved) and best wishes for your future projects.” (Mahzad Owladi)
“I saw your wonderful film at the Frontline Club on Monday. Congratulations.It is an unforgettable story, and perfectly told. To my surprise, I did not think it should be even one minute shorter! (Liz Wrenn)
“Dear Larissa, I just wanted to write and say how very moved I was by Kasim’s film last night. It was a real privilege to spend time with his family. Their collective strength and individual humour was remarkable to see and really brought home to me in a way nothing I have seen or read before, just how ghastly life is for the people of Baghdad. It was strange seeing people I had been aware of remotely, through my time working with you. I knew the headlines of their story but the practical realities and tensions had to be seen to be fully appreciated. I am really grateful he captured this pivotal time and I hope many more people get to see it via Channel 4.” (Jane Futrell)
“Tin Tin and I came to watch the preview yesterday; we both think it is a very moving and powerful documentation of the family. The camera shots were great and the account of the different family member is so touching.” (Khin Mint)
I have watched Kasim’s film and like it very much. It is very moving even before the personal tragedy and deserves to be seen widely. My congratulations to him.
My Washington programme (where it definitely needs to be seen!) is not until March but in the meantime I would like Masoud to see it for Dubai – OK? ( Sheila)