Mohamed Al-Daradji, Variety magazine’s 2010 Middle East Filmmaker of the Year, knows war. The 32-year-old Baghdad-born director fled Iraq for The Netherlands in 1995, where he worked as a camera operator before heading off to the United Kingdom to study cinematography and directing at the Northern Film School in Leeds. Since then, he has made documentaries, short films and features, all of which focus, in one way or another, on portraying life in Iraq and the effects of over a decade of war on the people and the land. His first feature film, «Ahlaam» (Dreams) from 2004, took four gruelling months to shoot amid air-strikes, prolonged power cuts and street fighting – part of the American «shock and awe» campaign of 2003. The experience of «Ahlaam» gave rise to his later documentary «War, Love, God and Madness,» in which Al-Daradji documents the dangers he and his crew were subjected to during filming. His most recent film, «Son of Babylon,» adresses the chaos that Iraq has been sunken into through the story of a 12-year-old Kurdish boy who travels with his grandmother to the north of Iraq in search of his father, a soldier who went missing during the Gulf War. «Son of Babylon» was awarded the Amnesty International and Peace Film prizes at Berlin. Meanwhile, the filmmaker is currently working on a documentary, due for release in early 2011, documenting the efforts of an orphanage director on a shoestring budget to educate 32 children that have been orphaned by the war. Al-Daradji was in Greece recently as a guest of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, where he served on the international jury and presented a number of his works within the context of a tribute. All of your work deals in one way or another with the violence to which your country has been subjected over the past decade. Do you believe that they have the power to help heal the wounds? A film can’t bring my auntie’s son back, it can’t bring my sister’s husband back, nor anyone who’s missing in Iraq. A film cannot fill that void. But what it can do, through global screenings, is to initiate a dialogue that can pave the way for understanding and forgiveness. What are the greatest challenges you face as a filmmaker in a war-torn country, and what advice would you give to other filmmakers facing similar situations? The greatest challenge was that during the production of all my films in Iraq, there was no film industry in existence, apart from the one that me and my colleagues created. We built something from scratch. With this there is no expectation – but it becomes something that drives you to make sure you can leave a legacy there, to leave something in place that war can’t touch. What advice would I give? Be a pioneer, be courageous and don’t let anything stop you. Belief and courage is the only thing you need, and with that your story will be told. Are you optimistic about the future of the arts in Iraq? I am very optimistic and will continue to be so as long as me and my colleagues continue to make films, theatre and other forms of art. Iraq is already making its marks culturally on an international level. Globally, people are showcasing Iraqi culture around the world and I have no doubt this will continue to grow.