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.