In 2003, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq and introduced a political and economic system based on sectarian quotas. Social tensions erupted into bloody sectarian conflicts. After US troops were withdrawn from Iraq in 2011, the country continued to face sectarian insurgencies. In 2014, ISIS conquered a third of Iraqi territory. However, after four years of war, ISIS was defeated.

In October 2019, the largest popular protests since 2003 broke out, particularly in the Southern provinces. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets across the country – including an unprecedented number of women. The youth-led grassroots movement sought to tackle the crisis of the political system on the streets. Political debates that had been carried out in the back rooms of the regime were now being discussed in public. The protesters demanded bread, freedom, and social justice, as well as the overthrow of the entire post-2003 regime. A young generation seemed to be standing up requesting its long-promised civil rights. Their demand: “We want a homeland!”. 

Tent cities were erected on squares. The most significant being the one on Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, reflecting a new vision of Iraq: non-violent forms of protest, gender equality, freedom of expression, art, and the rejection of corruption, political sectarianism, and the influence of foreign powers and religion were all commonplace. 

Iraq is truly a country of teenagers: the average age is 21; nearly 50% of Iraq’s population is under 18 and has little in the way of prospects for the future. 

The ruling elites responded with extreme violence. 782 people were killed and 33,000 injured. Nevertheless, the “October Revolution” achieved massive successes: the Prime Minister resigned, early elections were called, and a new electoral law was passed, making room for new voices in parliament. 

However, established political forces and organizations managed to usurp the “October Revolution”. The candidates of the “October movement” were unable to prevail against established politicians in the elections of October 2021. A power struggle within the Iraqi regime continued, with a pro-Iranian coalition forming a new government in 2022 after violent clashes.

Director's note

رؤية المخرجة

I have been politically active since I was 18 years old. In the fall of 2019, in Berlin, I met A., an activist from Baghdad, when the so-called “October Revolution” was at its peak. At that time, I was working on my film ROTZLOCH about refugees from the Middle East in Switzerland and became more interested in that region. When I heard about the uprising in Iraq, I was inspired by the youth’s incredible courage to fight for more justice, self-determination, and a better future despite overwhelming violence by the ruling elites. A. and I envisioned shedding light on this generation that is often overlooked by the rest of the world. We decided to work on a film together.

For safety and personal reasons, A. had to withdraw from the project after a few months. I decided to continue. As a foreign filmmaker, I felt a duty to continue documenting the realities of modern-day Iraq and share the stories of the people I had met.

To me, the Iraqis are the experts of their own experiences, whereas my role is one of a translator seeking to tell their stories. I always looked for ways to keep the protagonists’ own voices represented in the film. Khalili met this criterion as he had filmed himself during the uprising. He urgently wished to entrust his footage to a foreign filmmaker to tell his story without any censorship and ensure global reach. I have seventy hours of footage from his hand-held camera and his go-pro that he wore on his forehead, granting us an exclusive point of view of the happenings as well as the moment the governmental forces shot him.

Including a woman’s voice was very important to me. Women in a gender-segregated society, such as Iraq’s, face completely other problems than men. It was not easy to find a woman, but Milo contributed ideas from the onset of our collaboration and was eager to participate despite the risk. When I met her, she had been confronted with the rising violence against homosexuals and had already decided to leave Iraq eventually.

From day one, I have been in continuous exchange with everyone involved, with Milo and Khalili almost daily – Milo’s two-month disappearing exempt. During a total of four months, I conducted three research trips and was able to build extraordinary trust in the protagonists and the Iraqi crew. Our Iraqi co-producer became my sparring partner. He educated me on security-related red lines and opened many doors for me. Throughout the whole process, it was important to me that the Iraqis outnumbered the Swiss in our crew. Working with the Germany-based Arabic editor Alex Bakri should further counteract a Western bias.

The film’s backbone is Milo’s and Khalili’s life now, with Milo’s post-revolution story spanning the dramatic arc. As in a flashback, we delve into Khalili’s footage of the revolution and learn how this uprising profoundly changed the protagonists’ lives and shaped an entire generation.

To me, there is something anachronistic about Baghdad. The wars threw the city back in time. Yet, the youth is virtually connected to the modern world. I wanted to express this tension in the film’s language. I elaborated an appropriate camera concept together with the cinematographer Silvio Gerber, with whom I had already collaborated for my two last films. We chose to use old Russian helium lenses to give the digitally shot image an analog touch.

We decided against clandestine filming to keep everyone safe. Due to the high military presence, this decision resulted in negotiating filming permits. This constraint impacted the storytelling, leading to a subjective hybrid narrative form (re-enactment). The protagonists became heavily involved in building the storyline and character development. The re-created scenes were shot along dramaturgical arcs but display events or dialogues that had taken place in this way. Intentionally, Milo’s homosexuality is not explicitly stated while not being hidden either.

Furthermore, we have refrained from expressing explicit criticism of Iran’s role in Iraq. Critical statements made by the protest movement or by the protagonists are not included because it would endanger the Iraqi production company and the Iraqi crew. It is not possible to criticize Iran in today’s Iraq.

Milo and Khalili are two very different protagonists who mirror and complement each other. Structured in three chapters, the film thoughtfully expresses this individuality through distinct cinematic narratives.

Memories of the so-called “October Revolution” are being deliberately erased in Iraq, and repression against dissenters has increased in recent years. For this reason, and twenty years after the U.S.-led occupation, it is urgent to strengthen the voices of young Iraqis and bring them to the world.

All contributors signed off on the picture lock and confirmed they feel safe. All have consented in writing to the unrestricted distribution of this film. Meanwhile, Milo and Avin have managed to leave the country and have applied for asylum. As a human being and filmmaker, it is my ethical and moral responsibility to assist them in this process.