When the western world experiences Iraq, they experience it through television footage and news clippings; unfortunately almost all of the exposure is negative. War, bombings, terrorism and civil unrest plague the stories we hear. Director Samir Jamal Aldin, who was born in Baghdad, narrates this documentary that traces the travels of his family members over many years and discusses the frustrated dreams of a country riddled with dictatorship, war and foreign occupation.
The movie introduces us to several of Samir’s family members: the Jamal Aldins, with each one telling their own story of childhood and how they ended up in their current profession. Although a few members still remain in Iraq, the rest are spread all over the world, in places like Los Angeles, London, Moscow, Sydney and Paris; Samir himself moved to Switzerland when he was young. The viewers learn that there is as many as four to five million Iraqis who live outside the country, too afraid to return. As the film progresses and we learn more about the history of the family and Iraq, we learn that some members of the Jamal Aldin clan were somewhat involved with Communism in the 1950s. A crucial turning point in the timeline of Iraq is when the Baath party slowly solidified its power and Saddam Hussein took his place as leader.
From here, the country began a long and arduous downhill struggle: Iraq’s pointless and lengthy war with Iran, the atrocities Hussein committed as leader, and the eventual invasion of Iraq by the United States military. Throughout their lives, the members of the family make the best of a bad situation. Although the family is separated by thousands of miles, they have a remarkable connection. In the end, they all acknowledge that the homeland they left many years earlier is hardly recognizable.
Iraqi Odyssey is a film that requires more than one viewing. With a run time of almost three hours, the viewer can find it difficult to keep track of all the different characters, as well as the political and governmental history lessons that are interwoven throughout. The interviews with the family are done with a black backdrop, while animations of pictures and words fade in and out around them while they speak, which makes each interview interesting. The family members are all very well educated and full of resilience; listening to their tales makes you reflect upon your own struggles. If you have an interest in the history of Iraq and how it came to be the war-torn country it, unfortunately, is today, watch Iraqi Odyssey. It paints a fascinating portrait of Iraq unknown to most of the western world.