Iraq’s Mohamed Al-Daradji battles inner demons through film

Iraqi filmmaker Mohamed Al-Dharadji whose film 'The Journey', is Iraq's entry for the Oscar's Foreign Film entries, poses for a photo in West Hollywood, California on November 27, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 03 December 2018
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Iraq’s Mohamed Al-Daradji battles inner demons through film

  • The film transports viewers to 2006 — five minutes before Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein died by hanging at dawn, Daradji says — and introduces a female suicide bomber planning an attack
  • The first film to be released commercially in Iraq in 27 years, “The Journey” has been selected as Iraq’s official contender for the upcoming Oscars

LOS ANGELES: The Iraq War may have ended in 2011, but for filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji, the conflict that tore his country apart remains very much part of his everyday life.
“You could say that my movies are a way of coping with the (aftermath) of the war,” the 40-year-old told AFP in Los Angeles this week as he discussed his latest drama, “The Journey.”
“To me, the people of Iraq have not grieved, they have not come to terms with what happened... and I felt that maybe this is how my film can help and allow people to see themselves on the big screen.”
The film transports viewers to 2006 — five minutes before Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein died by hanging at dawn, Daradji says — and introduces a female suicide bomber planning an attack during the reopening of the Baghdad train station.
Within the confines of the station, where the drama unfolds, Daradji relays Iraq’s pain and suffering through various narratives — from the distraught child bride in a wedding dress, to street children surviving by selling flowers and polishing shoes and a musician returning to normal life after 22 years in a POW camp.
Added to the mix are the American soldiers patrolling the station and barking orders,their humanity poking through as one sings a lullaby to his child back home on the phone.
The first film to be released commercially in Iraq in 27 years, “The Journey” has been selected as Iraq’s official contender for the upcoming Oscars in the foreign-language category.
It will be Daradji’s third time representing his country at the Oscars, following “Ahlaam” in 2007 and “Son of Babylon” in 2010.
Like Daradji’s four other features, “The Journey” examines the war’s consequences, this time through the eyes of the female protagonist as she comes to terms with the horrible act she is about to commit.
Daradji said he was inspired to make the lead character a woman after reading an article about a 17-year-old Iraqi girl arrested with a bomb strapped to her waist.
“I began to make some research and found out there were more than 200 female suicide bombers in Iraq,” he said.
His storyline developed further after he eventually was allowed to meet with a female prisoner captured by the Iraqi army.
“I looked at her and she was a human being, she was beautiful and so smart,” he said. “And the question that I raise through ‘The Journey’ is whether there is redemption (for suicide bombers), whether they can get back the humanity that they lost.”
He said his next movie, “Bird of Paradise,” will also feature a woman as the central character, as well as children.
“When I think back to my childhood, there was no one who could listen to me and maybe that’s why I use children in my films and women also,” he said. “To give them a voice.”
As with all his features so far, Daradji said his latest project will again touch on Iraq’s turbulent history.
“In a funny way, I think all Iraqis suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)... and through my films I am shouting, I am letting out my anger, my frustration,” Daradji said.
“I made ‘The Journey’ for selfish reasons,” he added. “In a way, it helped me come to terms with myself.
“You can call it a form of therapy.”


Skin deep: Japan’s ‘washi’ paper torn by modern life

Updated 20 June 2019
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Skin deep: Japan’s ‘washi’ paper torn by modern life

  • Chinzei’s product, the world’s thinnest paper, has helped save historical documents at major museums and libraries
  • The traditional hand-made paper is manufactured from plants called kozo, or mulberry, which has fibers that are much longer than materials used for paper in the west such as wood and cotton

HIDAKA, Japan: Once an indispensable part of daily life in Japan, ultra-thin washi paper was used for everything from writing and painting to lampshades, umbrellas, and sliding doors, but demand has plunged as lifestyles have become more westernized.
Despite its 1,300-year history and UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status, washi paper is struggling to attract consumers and the market value has dropped by more than 50 percent in the past two decades.
But at a small workshop in western Japan, Hiroyoshi Chinzei, a fourth-generation traditional paper maker, creates washi with a unique purpose that may help revive interest — both at home and abroad.
Chinzei’s product, the world’s thinnest paper, has helped save historical documents at major museums and libraries — including the Louvre in Paris, the British Museum and Washington’s Library of Congress — from decay.
“Washi paper is more flexible and durable” than what Japanese refer to as “western paper,” which disintegrates into tiny pieces when it becomes very old, the 50-year-old told AFP.
The traditional hand-made paper is manufactured from plants called kozo, or mulberry, which has fibers that are much longer than materials used for paper in the west such as wood and cotton.
“Old Japanese books from the seventh or eighth century remain in good condition... thanks to the fibers of the kozo plants,” the washi maker told AFP at his small factory in Hidaka, a village 640 kilometers (400 miles) southwest of Tokyo.
The papermaking process begins with steaming the kozo plants and peeling off the bark, which is then boiled until soft, while impurities are removed by hand in clear water.
The fibers are then beaten and mixed with glue and water, before being placed on a wooden screen.
This screen is then dipped repeatedly in water with the fibers and shaken to spread the liquid evenly to make a sheet of paper, a technique which requires years to master.
Because washi is hard to break, damaged, old documents can be reinforced by attaching a piece of washi or sandwiching them between two sheets of the paper, Chinzei explained.
For documents, transparency is key to be able to see the text, meaning the thinner the washi, the better.
Chinzei’s washi, a type called tengu-joshi paper also known as “the wings of a mayfly,” is 0.02 millimeters thick and weighs 1.6 grams per square meter.
This compared to a standard sheet of photocopy paper, which is about 0.09 millimeters thick and weighs 70 grams per square meter.
“It’s a mesh-like paper mainly made with fibers... It’s as thin as human skin,” Chinzei said.
Using both machines and hand-made techniques passed down for generations, the firm can create ultra-thin paper, which is also used by conservationists to restore and protect cultural objects.
One such conservationist, Takao Makino, carefully applies washi with a brush onto golden sticks representing the halo of a Buddhist statue estimated to be around 800 years old.
Makino said he used washi for the first time in 2007 to protect the surface of one of the two main statues at Tokyo’s historic Sensoji Temple.
“The surface was damaged and peeled off. So we covered all of it (with washi) to contain the damage,” the 68-year-old said.
“Washi naturally fits into intricately-shaped sculptures, but papers with chemical fibers or wrapping films don’t,” he said.
“The history proves washi is very durable... The material is pure, strong and lasting. It’s reliable.”
The production of the Japanese paper peaked in the Edo period between the 17th and late 19th centuries but declined as papermaking was mechanized.
Now, due to the westernization of Japan, the washi market is shrinking again, Chinzei said.
“We have no tatami rooms and almost no space to display a hanging scroll in the current lifestyle,” he said.
“Washi used for those things are now gone.”
According to the industry ministry, the total value of handmade washi dropped to 1.78 billion yen in 2016 from 4.15 billion yen in 1998, while that of washi for calligraphy and shoji sliding screens fell to 5.86 billion yen from 25.1 billion yen.
Chinzei didn’t plan on taking over his family trade and went to business school in Seattle to study finance.
“But I came back... because I felt responsible for passing the baton to the next generation,” he said, hoping to find ways to expand the market.
The volume of washi used for restoration is still small, but it’s been shipped to more than 40 countries and Chinzei is hopeful interest will grow.
He explained: “For restoring cultural assets and as a canvas for art... I think washi has the potential to be used more in the world of art.”