Award-winning director chooses Kurdistan for the feature film “Baghdad Messi”

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ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Sahim Omar Kalifa, a Belgian-Kurdish filmmaker, shot a feature film called “Baghdad Messi” this summer near the ancient citadel of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region. The image is slated to hit theaters next year.

The award-winning director made a short film of the same name in 2013, which earned him 60 awards. It was also shortlisted for an Oscar in 2014

Baghdad Messi focuses on the story of a young boy named Hamoudi who lost a leg and is obsessed with football. He admires professional footballer Lionel Messi, who now plays for Paris Saint-Germain Football Club.

One-legged child actor Ali al-Zaidawi, who plays Hamoudi in the film, meet Messi in Dubai in 2013.

A Baghdad Messi film set. (Photo: Bram Goots)

Filming in Erbil took place between June and July 2020, and there were a number of scenes in Mosul in the 32 days of filming.

“Everyone worked very hard to make a good film” Kalifa told Kurdistan 24, expressing his enthusiasm that the short film “Reached millions of people”.

“The subject and the character drew a lot of people and it was a story that people loved to see,” he added, noting the difficulty in “Reach a lot of people” with short films versus feature films and TV shows.

Short films are “just for festivals. We know this feature will be a lot better and we’ve had more time to get to know the character.

One of the largest film distribution companies in Europe, Wild Bunch, has already purchased the rights to the film.

Kalifa explained that he decided to film the photo almost entirely in Kurdistan, and not in Baghdad, as it is easier to bring an international film crew to the Kurdistan region.

“In Baghdad, you have a new checkpoint every kilometer, where they ask for your identity card, your authorization and your passport,” he said. “You waste a lot of time during the shoot.”

In Kurdistan, however, he did not have this problem with the police, who assisted him during the filming of the film, closing the roads and keeping interested spectators away from the film set, Kalifa added.

The filmmaker also pointed out that the foreign team could secure insurance in the region with relative ease as the process in Baghdad was more difficult.

The film crew was made up of members from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United States, Turkey, Iraq, Kurdistan and other countries.

For Baghdad Messi, they also shot in Mosul for a day.

“But one day we lost three hours at the checkpoints and more. And the problem is, the police have to escort you (because of the foreign film crew).

Nonetheless, he said it was okay to shoot in Erbil. “We selected places that really looked like Baghdad. We shot in Erbil in the Tairawa district, all the buildings are from the 60s and 80s, and it looks like Baghdad now.

Kalifa expects production to end by May 2022 and the film to hit theaters in October 2022.

Kalifa was born in Zakho in 1980. He moved to Belgium in 2001 and continued his studies. In 2008, he obtained his Masters from Sint-Lukas Film School.


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