Our River… Our Sky: Ground-breaking movie by female Iraqi filmmakers up for three BIFA awards

A ground-breaking movie, written and directed by a group of female Iraqi filmmakers, has been nominated for three awards at this year's British Independent Film awards (BIFA).

Our River… Our Sky is up for best ensemble performance, best supporting performance for child actress Zainab Joda and best casting for Leila Bertrand.

The film is also nominated for best UK feature at the Raindance Film Festival, the UK's largest independent festival, held annually in London's West End, where it also premiered.

Set in Baghdad, the drama tells the story of the sectarian violence following the execution of Saddam Hussein in 2006 through the eyes of a single mother.

The director, Maysoon Pachachi, told Sky News the film was both a passion project and a "protest", and while Saddam Hussein's Iraq may feel like history to many in the West, the film is now more prescient than ever due to the current refugee crisis.

She said she hopes showing the reality of life for people in war-torn countries will spark compassion:

"For an audience outside Iraq, it's to say to them that for refugees it's not a matter of, 'Oh well, I'll go and live in France, they've got better healthcare there'. It's a matter of 'You're driven to it and there's an enormous loss when you leave'.

"The problem is that a lot of the militias are backed by outside forces and meanwhile it's the people that really live in the country that get the brunt of all that and they pay with their lives."

"It was certainly a protest," Pachachi added.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, more than three million people have fled Iraq as refugees since 2014, and the recent droughts and continued tension between Islamic sects mean that number looks likely to grow.

Pachachi says Iraqis had been silenced under Saddam Hussein and after he was toppled, the floodgates opened.

However, she says it's still taken nearly 20 years to get the film made because "we had to go through a process for them to trust me because their families were still vulnerable, and Saddam was still in power [by way of his former hold over the country]".

The film also took its toll on its creators.

Pachachi told Sky News that for her co-writer Irada Al-Jubori it was especially difficult: "At a certain point she stopped being able to write because the violence and sense of trauma silenced her."

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Despite the cost, the director hopes the film will change the way Iraq is seen by the world.

"If you have small poetic moments that's the counterpoint to the blood on the streets - in the midst of having to see something very ugly you can see something quite beautiful."

Pachachi admits to Sky News that she pulled herself out of a dark time by making this film, she says it was like "putting back together something that had shattered".

She went on: "The big shock for me was the 1991 Gulf War, a lot of us Iraqis in London sat glued to the television 24 hours a day and you never saw one ordinary Iraqi person speak.

"It was like all this incredible firepower was falling on nobody and the land was empty.

"I was completely traumatised by that, to the degree of forgetting what my name was and how old I was, starting to forget my English which I've spoken all my life - I couldn't remember the word for window or table, really simple basic stuff."

Screenings Our River… Our Sky to be announced here.