‘Iraqi Odyssey’ Director on Why His Personal Journey Mirrors So Many Others in the Middle East

“Lebanese and even Iranians said, ‘this is our story, our family,’ filmmaker explains at TheWrap Screening Series

Last Updated: November 19, 2015 @ 2:52 PM

When filmmaker Samir first decided to make “Iraqi Odyssey,” he had no idea the movie about his family would be representative of so many others in the Middle East.

“Lebanese and even Iranians said, ‘this is our story, our family,'” acclaimed director Samir explained after TheWrap’s screening of his film at the iPic in Westwood Wednesday. “I was like, ‘OK, this is not my family anymore, this is everybody.'”

The film, Switzerland’s official entry for the 2015 Academy Awards, follows Samir’s family as it migrates from Iraq, over more than half a century, to countries across the globe.

After living in a nation plagued by dictatorship, war and foreign occupation, Samir’s family members immigrated to Los Angeles, Auckland, Buffalo, London and Moscow. For Samir, Zurich became his new home when he was 7 years old, but he struggled with identity issues as an Iraqi in Switzerland.

“Over the next six years, Switzerland was not my country,” he said. “I became very angry — I wouldn’t like to have known me back then.”

He went on to describe how social media played a big part in discovering his true identity as well as connecting with his family members in far away places for the film.

“We are now living in different times, and you are always surrounded by your country via social media,” said Samir. “It’s impossible to run away … Everybody [in my family] in the mid-90s had email accounts. I made a joke about it — when we left Baghdad, we didn’t know anything about each other. And since we have these electronic devices, we know so much about each other, maybe too much! I strongly believe that led us to create the film.”

Samir had multiple goals when making the film — showing that Switzerland was an open-minded country, showing the Western public the true meaning of being Iraqi and pushing the idea of acceptance.

“I grew up in two different countries that are built up on diversity, he said. “Iraq is full of different religions and cultures, and Switzerland has that same concept. The concept should be the acceptance of being diverse.”

While he only returned to Iraq to film parts of the movie, Samir said he will never lose his Iraqi identity.

“Can you cut off your arm? No, it’s not possible,” he said. “I am Iraqi and I am also Swiss and I can’t lose my past. I am interested in the future. We are all living on the same globe, so it’s difficult to say we belong somewhere. I belong to the entire world.”