Nearly five years in the making, director Samir’s 2 1/2 hour-plus feature documentary Iraqi Odyssey puts his multi-generational family under the lens as they’ve relocated around the world.
While many Iraqis have dreamed about building a modern society after their independence in the 1950s, they’ve encountered challenges over the course of half a century. It is estimated that 4-5M Iraqis live outside of Iraq today. Samir’s extended family alone is spread throughout Abu Dhabi, Auckland, Sydney, Los Angeles, Buffalo, London, Paris, Zurich and Moscow. The director told Deadline’s Dominic Patten at the Awardsline screening Monday night that he made Iraqi Odyssey because “I was asking myself, ‘What is the meaning to be Arab? I grew up in Switzerland with prejudices and stereotypes…I was questioning myself.”
Set around three acts, Iraqi Odyssey begins with Samir’ grandfather and his struggle against the British colonialism. The second act follows the director’s relatives as they emigrate to safe havens around the globe, sidestepping coups in the 1960s and 1970s. This led to the rise of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in Iraq and his fall in 2003, and the impact that had on the director’s family.
“In this film, the question was what happens when we go abroad? Do we live under oppression or not? This was a choice and some family went back under the (Iraqi) dictatorship,” said Samir. A bulk of those fleeing were highly educated middle class, fortunate enough to have resources to travel. Samir mentioned that his sister returned to Iraq only to ultimately move to the United States. The director came to Switzerland from Baghdad in the 1950s where he lived with his parents and grandparents in a big house in a residential quarter. Only a few of his relatives remain in Iraq.
Samir’s decision to maintain a long-running time for the film (there’s also a 90 minute version for TV which isn’t being considered for its Oscar submission) is as follows: “It’s a family story which spans over a century and the entire globe cannot be told in 90 minutes. My film is like a symphony to me. It consists of a number of different movements, and this takes time.”
Samir started raising financing for Iraqi Odyssey in early 2010, which was a two-year process. In addition to his own financing, Samir obtained backing from the Swiss Cultural Funding body, Coin Film, West German Broadcasting as well as Swiss Television. Principal photography began in 2012 and ran though the beginning of 2014; this entailed plenty of traveling. The 3D post production took a year and a half for Samir to lock down. When asked by Patten how the film has changed for him since he made it, Samir exclaimed, “It’s not my film anymore. It belongs to the audience.”
Said Samir, “I wanted to memorize this generation for their efforts have been largely forgotten or discredited due to religious fanatics.”