Young Iraqi director wins best documentary film at Beirut festival

Yehya al-Allaq's film "Cola" won awards at the Gulf Film Festival and the Beirut International Film Festival. [File / Mawtani]

Yehya al-Allaq's film "Cola" won awards at the Gulf Film Festival and the Beirut International Film Festival. [File / Mawtani]

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Young Iraqi director Yehya al-Allaq, 29, took home the award for best Middle Eastern documentary film during the 11th annual Beirut International Film Festival (BIFF).

"Cola", which also won second place in the documentary film category at the 4th annual Gulf Film Festival, is based on a true story.

Al-Allaq had a chat with Mawtani about his film and his Lebanese award. Mawtani: Tell us how you feel after winning the award for best Middle Eastern documentary film.

Yehya al-Allaq: I am really happy with this award. After having visited Beirut for the first time and being bewitched by its beauty, I returned to Baghdad with my award for "Cola" from the BIFF, which I consider to be a stepping stone for all Arab directors, especially those at the beginning of their international careers.

Mawtani: To whom will you present this award?

Al-Allaq: I present it to the heroine of the film, Jinan, who is a real child that I discovered in a Baghdadi neighborhood. She is 10 years old, and after her father fell ill, she was charged with the responsibility of providing for her family. She disguised herself as a boy and gave herself the name "Hamoudi" to protect herself from street aggressors.

She roams the streets of Baghdad with her donkey, rummaging through garbage dumps in search of empty cans and plastic items so she can sell them at the end of the day and use what meager pay she gets to buy food for her family and medicine for her father. I was able to tell her story in only 20 minutes.

Mawtani: What was the message you wanted to send through "Cola"?

Al-Allaq: The content of that message revolves around the impact of 40 years of war in Iraq through the eyes of children. These wars have created orphans, widows, deprived families and starvation. I consider my film a cry to help all of those people and especially children.

Mawtani: How did you enter the world of directing?

Al-Allaq: I started when I was still a student and assistant director to director Mohammed al-Darraji, with whom I worked on his films. It started with the film "Dreams" in 2004, and as we were filming on Haifa Street in Baghdad, we were abducted by an al-Qaeda cell who soon released us after learning we were just students.

After that, I worked with him on all his films such as "Love and War" and "My Name is Mohammed", which won an award for best short feature film category at the Beirut International Film Festival in 2009.

Mawtani: "Cola" was your first film?

Al-Allaq: Yes, and it was for my graduation thesis, which is why it is considered an academic film. It also entered the 4th annual Gulf Film Festival and competed with films by professional directors and won an award. I also received a scholarship from New York University, [and now am going] to complete my studies in directing at the School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA.

Mawtani: What are you working on now?

Al-Allaq: I am working on a long feature film whose theme is also humanitarian and tells stories of children, but I need to finalize some details before I begin production.






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  • عصام الديبس


    The Iraqi cinema is like a shy teenager from a conservative city. It looks from time to time out of the window of the house. Maybe it can search for a knight to revive its fading humanity. So, our dear Iraqi cinema appears only in the festivals. Maybe it tries to say, "Here I am" through its kind children, such as the star Yahya al-Alaq. It has no substantial or firm basis, but it follows the sets of the cinematic work according to scientific, artistic and creative elements. It draws a roadmap to reach international creativity, so that the new generations of artists will take part strongly, not just with shy, limited participation. This should be done through specialized artistic institutions and cinematic institutes in which all the developed labs are available, in addition to generous financial support. This way, we can have a strong cinema that can produce creative works of art to compete with other international cinemas.

  • جاسم


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  • كرارالجبوري


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  • eman


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  • حسام


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  • علي


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  • مهدي الغرابي


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  • TheDovewoman


    Kudos to Yahhya ak-Allajk for his film, \"Cola\". Looking forward to the next one. God Bless.

  • حسنين الخفاجي


    Despite the difficult circumstances in which the Iraqi people live during this phase of the life of Iraq, we see that the creative Iraqi artist has defied all the difficulties and insisted on achieving success in all fields. The Iraqi has witnessed the long-term absence of the Iraqi cinema and the lack of Iraqi cinematic production. Hence, we see that the number of people who want to revive the Iraqi cinema has increased, and they have started producing simple works. This phenomenon appears clearly among the students of the Fine Arts College, who started taking care of the cinema in Iraq, which witnessed a complete halt. The cinema in Iraq will not rise again overnight, because this revival requires many conditions, including good planning, good capabilities and producers to offer the funds to this industry. However, the most important thing is the availability of scripts that deserve to be filmed in the cinema, as well as the actors who can act out the characters in front of the camera. These conditions are nonexistent. Hence, improving the cinematic reality in Iraq requires a comprehensive view of all these requirements, which will achieve significant success.

  • سيلين


    A new and elegant cinema show has opened in Iraq again, after all the Iraqi cinemas had been closed. The Iraqi cinemas were among the most beautiful cinemas in the Arab world, and they were always up to date and offered modern and beautiful movies. The movie theaters have come back, but unfortunately movie production, release and artistic sides have gone totally extinct and disappeared. There are some amazing individual efforts of movie directors, lovers and amateurs to keep the Iraqi cinema. Without these efforts, we wouldn’t have seen any Iraqi contribution in the cinemas. But, thanks to God, Iraq loves art, and there are many beautiful talents of cinema students who depend on themselves in producing short movies. I hope that the cinema will return in Iraq, and that we would see beautiful productions, like the ones produced before.

  • احمد العراقي


    Wonderful! We hope that we will benefit from his experience in the Iraqi sublime art.

  • رفيق حسن


    The status of the Iraqi cinema has gone from bad to worse, and art has deteriorated more than it was expected to. The cinematic art in Iraq will take many years to recover. I am one of the biggest fans of the Iraqi cinema, but what we see is that the Iraqi artists have gone outside of Iraq. And even there, they did not perform what they wanted to do for an artistic performance. The status of the Iraqi cinema needs a lot of funds in order to produce artistic works. The Iraqi artist is poor and the Iraqi artists have left their country, but they know that art abroad will not help them. The Iraqi Ministry of Culture should restore the Iraqi art. For us as Iraqis, we have a lot of great artists, especially the young ones, who work on sophisticated art. The Iraqi cinema needs not only actors; it also needs great financial aid in order to finance great actors to perform their roles. This will require a lot of money, and God willing, the cinematic art will be regained once again, and the Iraqi art will be the first and the best.

  • شاكر سليمان


    We want to see the officials showing an interest in creative Iraqi people and particularly the youth, who relied on themselves and their personal experience in achieving success and highlighting the prestige of Iraq in international forums. Those people were working very seriously, exhausted a great deal of energy, and showed true professionalism in order to become international stars. They always cherished this dream till they won this award, which represents the Middle East as a whole. This Award actually represents the first step towards international prominence. It also represents the first step to reaching international stardom, God willing. We hope all the best for this creative young director. We also wish him a bright career. I pray to God to grant him success in all his works. I also hope that he will receive all kinds of support and help in order to remain prominent in film direction. In fact, I am quite certain about the importance of this festival held in Beirut, which usually captures the interest of the media. The latter do full coverage of all the details of the festivals and their participants, as well as those who win awards. Congratulations a thousand times to the creative Iraqi director, Yahya al-Allaq.

  • اسماعيل


    Yahya al-Allak is one of the young directors who are making great progress. He is also one of the student directors who were instructed by specialized professors in the Institute of Fine Arts and the Faculty of Fine Arts. In fact, he invested all the experience he had acquired in the field of theater, in the work released recently. He also showed his passion and talent that allowed him to become a prominent director in the Arab world. There is no doubt that the performance of this young director will keep evolving and he will become an international personality, God willing. Indeed, the fact that he won this award at the International Film Festival in Beirut means a great deal for him and for us, too. It will certainly represent a great motivation to seek stardom. I hope that he will receive all kinds of support and help from the specialized authorities. In fact, we all know that any other director from any other country that participated in this festival and won the first place for the best documentary film would contract with many companies. The latter would adopt his ideas and produce films for this director.

  • سلمان عبدالاله


    As an Iraqi citizen, I find myself very proud that a young Iraqi director won the highest award for his film, Cola, at the Beirut Film Festival. This film acquired a great reputation among all parties and within the judicial panel in this festival. The triumph of the young Iraqi director, Yahia al-Allaqi, brought us happiness with the Iraqi production. This restored our confidence in the Iraqi arts and the possibility that Iraq could be creative under different circumstances. We salute the Iraqi director, Yahia al-Allaqi for this achievement, and we commend his effort to convey the Iraqi voice to such an international artistic forum. We give our blessing to this achievement which will naturally contribute to Iraqi directors’ coming back to the forefront. Iraqi film production and direction have been absent from international and Arab artistic forums for years, because of the difficult events Iraq has gone through, which caused deterioration in many sectors in our country, because of the terrorist operations. One of these affected sectors was direction, which has suffered from many problems in Iraq in the recent years and still is. Therefore, the great achievement which was the fruit of the outstanding efforts of the Iraqi director, Yahia al- Allaq, who has contributed to restoring the good image of the Iraqi directors. This will have a great impact on the level and the perspective and on future of the Iraqi directors, who will have the field open before them again to produce and direct art work.

  • محسن عمران


    The award received by Yahua Al Allaq will motivate all Iraqi directors. We are happy with this achievement, which will serve the interests of direction, especially since the film presented by Yahia Al Allaq at the Beirut Film Festival that received the highest award is this director’s first film. This shows a good promise and a good return for film direction in Iraq, which will contribute to restoring the good reputation of Iraqi directors, who have many artistic capabilities in the field of cinematic direction. This achievement for director Yahia Al Allaq will undoubtedly have a great impact on the return of stardom for the Iraqi director, whose name became internationally famous after this achievement, especially since many directors in Iraq have many productions that proved their worthiness and were adopted by many Iraqi satellite channels.

  • الموطنی


    Hi, why don’t you update the entertainment section? Its news is very old. We want the current news and reports. Thanks.

  • عمار يعقوب


    In spite of the harsh conditions in which the Iraqi people are living in this stage of Iraq’s life, we think that the Iraqi artist and innovative person has challenged all the difficulties and bet upon success in the different issues and has excelled in it, in spite of the difficulties which stand in his face in the artistic and innovative aspect of life. Through the International Film Festival that was held in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, recently, light has been shed on many international films. Most of them reflect a lot of sophistication and artistic brilliance as a result of what a lot of countries which enjoy stability have in terms of modern and developed artistic factors. But we think that the Iraqi artist has managed to jump over the level of innovators who have the factors and capabilities of innovation, and has managed to attain the award for the best Middle Eastern documentary film for the film which he has directed. The Iraqi artist Yahia Al-Alaq has directed his film, entitled Cola; this film which has witnessed great competition with the other films presented at the Beirut International Film Festival. The directors of these films enjoy the artistic, technical and financial abilities, which were not available to the Iraqi artist Yahia Al-Alaq. He was suffering from very hard conditions for reasons that were known to everyone. But he has managed to overcome these problems and obstacles, and has put the right bases for his artistic work, which has been presented at the Beirut International Film Festival, and which won the admiration of everyone, including the judging committees, the artists and attendees. Thus, he deserved to win the prize, and this is evidence of the ability of the Iraqi human being and his great innovative abilities. These consist of potentialities which he can unlock in order to create new cases of innovation and brilliance in all the life fields. It is sufficient that the Iraqi artist can participate in this festival and attain any prize or position, because of the hard conditions he has been suffering from and living in for more than eight years, as a result of the instability of the security situation in the country. But we have noticed the opposite, as the Iraqi artist has managed to overcome all the difficulties in order to reach stardom and openness to the world.

  • عزيزواحد


    There is no cinema in Iraq, and those who believe the opposite are completely wrong, because the cinema industry needs great effort, specialized people in this domain, and considerable amounts of money that should be allocated for cinema. These are the main factors for the success of cinema, and they do not exist in Iraq. For this reason, we can see that the Iraqi art works are represented in dramatic series only. To be honest, Iraqi artists are not qualified to work in the domain of cinema, with all due respect to all the skilled artists. Acting in cinema is different from TV while shooting serials. Of course, there are some cinematic attempts carried out by some young people, considered as some experiments or cinematic research. These attempts are limited to documentaries or short films that are used to participate in festivals. However, if we want to have a clear evaluation of the Iraqi cinema, we have to focus on what the Iraqi cinema has produced in the last years, in order to be objective. As for those who are interested in cinema, it is easy for them to know that the Iraqi cinema has not produced any film for more than two decades. This is clear evidence that the cinema industry in Iraq is totally stagnant and will not develop overnight, because cinema should meet many conditions, such as good planning, providing the requirements, and the availability of producers who can afford to spend their money on this industry. The most important condition is the availability of the script that deserves to be shot as a movie, together with good actors who can perform well in front of the camera. Unfortunately, these conditions are not available now, and for this reason, advancing the cinema will need a comprehensive attitude towards the requirements and the persons who have a strong will, in order to start building the cinema again in Iraq.

  • جواد سرحان


    For years, the Iraqi cinema was a producer of good films, which are still remembered until the present. In fact, the Iraqi cinema has produced many master artists, who are still performing till now, and who directed many films that have achieved recognition at the Arab level, given the beauty of their subjects. Despite its long history and its many achievements over decades, I believe that the Iraqi cinema has recently declined. Indeed, it is absent on the Iraqi as well as the Arab scene. Except for some achievements which are carried out by the Iraqi youth through the production of some films, I feel that the Iraqi cinema is currently experiencing its worst moments and is declining. In fact, the Arab world and Egypt in particular have reached advanced stages in terms of directing and the subjects tackled. Yet, I personally notice that there is a vast difference between Iraqi and especially the Egyptian cinema or that of the other Arab countries. Therefore, I think that the Iraqi cinema is currently experiencing its worst moments and going through some circumstances that have led to its decline to unexpected levels. As far as I am concerned, the conditions of the country had a great impact on the situation of the cinema in Iraq. In fact, this country has experienced a lot of events that contributed to hampering the wheel of cinematic production. One of these circumstances is the migration of many Iraqi master artists to work in neighboring countries and the lack of interest in cinema on the part of the concerned authorities, in addition to many other factors that have affected the cinematic sector. Thus, I believe that the Iraqi cinema is suffering and is clearly declining. In fact, we have not witnessed any Iraqi-produced films for years, except for some attempts made by some of the youth, who are longing to develop the Iraqi cinema. Indeed, this is an indication that the Iraqi cinema does not have a promising future, at least at this particular period in its history.

  • وسام فلاح


    Iraqi art is always an ancient art, and what the Iraqi directors are carrying out, in terms of presenting all of what is good, successful and distinguished, and they have evidence indicating the excellence and progress in the directing field, is a matter which proves the extent of the ability, excellence and giving of the Iraqi innovator. He has started to attain international awards which are spread in the Arab and foreign countries. It is a matter that calls for great happiness and joy, because the Iraqi people have a lot of abilities and powers, which make their credits increase with all merit, excellence and brilliance. It is amazing what the innovative director, Yahia Al Alak, carried out when he directed the movie named Cola. He received the award for the best Middle Eastern documentary film in the International Festival for Cinema in Beirut. The Iraqi people, who have long been distinguished in the field of art, and the artists and cinema works, have a very long history of experience in innovation and excellence, as they have the experience and the ability to give and provide the successful work, which satisfies all the tastes. It has gained the approval of many people, and that is why it has achieved this award. Therefore, we wish all success, luck and brilliance to the Iraqi directors. We hope they present everything beautiful and wonderful for the artistic and cinema works, which attract the attention and the sight of the viewer. Everyone will be fascinated by these wonderful works, especially what is presented by the Iraqi director Yahia Al Alak, who has attained the award of the best director for the best Middle Eastern documentary film. May God grant him one success after the other and one brilliance after another, God willing, so that the result will be winning and brilliance. It will be the motive and the drive, so that the giving process will continue, in order to produce all the best and the most beautiful and to attain the approval of the followers and watchers, because the Iraqi directors are always significant with their successful and distinctive works.

  • جبران


    Greetings to the Iraqi director who has raised our heads high; thank you for your innovation.

  • مننو


    May God bless you.

  • ياسين عبده


    In truth, cinema in Iraq was very distinguished and achieved much continuing success, as well as winning awards inside and outside Iraq, in spite of the simple capabilities that were available at this time. However, for a certain period, Iraqi cinema experienced a great and long-term absence, as well as a lack of Iraqi viewers of such matters. They were always following Egyptian cinema, but during the last period, as we witnessed the situation, we might say that this may have been better than nothing, as there are many people who are concerned with cinematic works, even if they were a simple thing, especially the students of the Faculty of Fine Arts who started to pay attention to the cinema. It will achieve great success in the future, God willing, because there are many youth who have a lot of ideas, techniques and information regarding the cinema aspect and they have experience, techniques, and devices as well as modern cameras. Therefore, the condition of the cinema in Iraq is still in its infancy and it needs money as well as a lot of efforts and continuous work, so as to attain positive results and put a smile and happiness upon the faces of the Iraqi people, especially because there is a lack of cinema houses and halls. I believe that the concerned ministry should pay attention to this matter, so that there will be encouragement for working in the cinema film industry, even if it is simple, so that there will be motivation and drive for many of the graduate youth who are still studying cinema in Iraq, as well as those who are abroad. They have greatly benefited from the specialized experiences as well as the modern techniques. All this will contribute to developing and speeding up innovation in the Iraqi cinema field. This issue will receive great and significant competition and come back with successful, brilliant works of Iraqi directors, whether from the previous generations or the modern generation. We wish the best of luck to the Iraqi people regarding their success, significance and brilliance.