Iraqi Director Amer Alwan Dies at 66

Iraqi film director and writer Amer Alwan, whose moving drama “Zaman, the Man From the Reeds” was shot right before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and had its North-American premiere at Tribeca in 2004, has died at 66.

Alwan, who had long been living in France, died surrounded by family at the Simone Veil Hospital in the French town of Eaubonne on July 4 after battling an unspecified form of cancer for a year, his daughter, Camille Alwan, said by email. He was buried at Saint-Ouen Cemetery in Paris.

Born in Babylon-Hills, Iraq, in 1957, Alwan graduated from Iraq’s National School of Drama and Arts and continued his studies at the Audio Visual School of Baghdad, which led to him doing TV work in Iraq. Then in 1980, he left Iraq to earn an advanced degree in philosophy of art and society from Paris’ prestigious Sorbonne university.

After making several shorts, Alwan began directing documentaries in 2000 about living conditions in his home country such as “The Children of the Embargo,” which looked at the conditions of impoverished children in Baghdad 10 years after the U.N. sanctions and two national incidents, the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War and the 1988 bombing of Iraq by U.S. and U.K. forces.

“Children of the Embargo” screened at France’s Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinemas, as did Alwan’s first feature, “Zaman, the Man from the Reeds” – which was then the first movie shot in Iraq in 15 years – and travelled widely on the festival circuit. It won the Vesoul audience’s prize in 2004.

“Zaman,” which is about a peasant’s quest from the countryside to Baghdad to find medicine that could save his beloved wife, was shot in January 2003 days before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began. Alwan experienced hardship and censorship during filming. Part of his footage was confiscated by Saddam Hussein’s regime.

“Alwan takes a documentarian’s delight in capturing the unglamorous atmosphere of modern Baghdad as a big, dusty traffic jam,” noted Variety in its review of “Zaman, the Man from the Reeds” from the San Sebastian Film Festival, where it won the Future Talent Award. The review added: “One drug store after another turns Zaman down. When at last he locates the medicine in a Catholic clinic, bureaucracy and corruption threaten to keep him from getting it.”

Alwan returned to the Vesoul fest as a member of its international jury in 2010 and then as a guest of honour in 2014.

“We loved this man who always had a smile despite the hardships of life,” Vesoul fest founder Jean-Marc Thérouanne said in a statement.

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