How was the experience of filming Baghdad Central in Morocco?
Three months in Morocco was difficult for me as a Palestinian with an Israeli passport. You can’t really leave because you have to renew the visa, so while it was hard to be confined to one place, it also helped give me a better idea of how they feel in Iraq, in a way. It was an extraordinary experience, a beautiful project told with a brilliant perspective.
Can you explain more about that perspective?
These stories are usually told from an American perspective. I find it fascinating to see the Iraqi perspective, and not just the perspective of being angry and wanting to harm people, but the everyday life of a person like Khafaji (Waleed Zuaiter), torn between two lives of looking after one daughter and looking for another, while having to collaborate to do both those things. And Sawsan is fascinating: a strong woman in conflict with her family, thinking differently and doing things differently to what her dad wants. It takes her down a dark, dangerous road.
How does she clash with her father?
The reality they’re living under in Iraq is very hard and people deal with it in different ways. Sawsan is young, that generation wants to see things happen straight away. It’s not about the bigger picture or giving things time. She’s so frustrated and angry that she wants some kind of change, but she knows there are consequences for her actions. For a lot of Iraqis the American invasion was hope and change, something different. But it backfired. Sawsan’s way of coping is different to Khafaji’s, which is why she’s had to go and live with her uncle.
What’s her relationship with her younger sister Mrouj like?
Sawsan loves her sister so much. The fact that she’s so sick with kidney failure, especially since she lost her brother and mother …she’s very vulnerable but also knows Mrouj (July Namir) is very smart and can handle herself. When you have so much damage and corruption around you at that age, you just have to keep moving, you can’t sit and think about all the horrible things that are going on or you’ll sit in a ball and cry.
Which of Sawsan’s characteristics did you particularly relate to?
I’m from a Palestinian background. I’ve had my own experiences with occupation and I could relate to Sawsan because women are still being exploited all around the world today. I hope people watching will see what courage looks like, how hard it is to live on a daily basis.
The cast is incredibly diverse…
Palestinian, Iraqi, Egyptian, all over the place! When I got to the set I was like, finally! People who can really relate to what this all means, if not personally then through a friend. I was so glad to sit there and talk Arabic with eight people, not just one. You can share things.
It’s not the first time you’ve worked with Waleed Zuaiter.
My first job was with him on Omar, a low-budget Palestinian film that went worldwide and was nominated for the Oscars. I was 16, young, naïve, all over the place. As I got to know Waleed, he helped me become who I am today. He has an amazing presence and brings such amazing suppressed emotion. Waleed is a family person, I know how he is with his wife and kids. He portrays Khafaji so humanely and touchingly, it shows how amazing Iraqi men can be and how much they love their families. His portrayal of Khafaji shows how a lot of men in the Middle East think.