Saudi Arabia to host Arab Broadcasting Festival in November
DHAHRAN: It’s taken more than three decades, but there’s finally a documentary about the first Gulf War from 1991 that offers an intense look at the emotional and mental toll of that conflict.
“Memories from the North”, which won Best Short Documentary at the recent Saudi Film Festival in Ithra, was produced, directed and written by Abdulmohsen Al-Mutairi, a gifted storyteller and Arabic-speaking journalist.
Al-Mutairi used vintage television clips, family archive footage, independent interviews and a soundtrack that included sirens to reproduce the feelings of terror and confusion that marked the times of many in the country.
“The documentary appears to me as a chapter of [a] book because memories and war are like chapters to us. For me, war is a timeline, there is a beginning, a middle and an end,” Al-Mutairi told Arab News.
Al-Mutairi’s work brought back faded memories among those he interviewed.
Canadian-based Saudi actress Aixa Kay was an eight-year-old living in Riyadh when war broke out.
When Al-Mutairi called her to be one of the interviewees, she realized that she had unknowingly completely skipped that period in her mind and in the conversations.
“Honestly, I don’t remember talking about the Gulf War with my family. It was just like “there” and it was done – and we continued. It’s very strange. Like I said in the documentary, it’s so weird that it never happened that we sat down together and said, ‘Do you remember what happened back then? ” Trauma does that. Trauma is about blockage and I think that indicates it was really deep for us,” Kay told Arab News.
Al-Mutairi said he was honored that his work was recognized with the award and the SR30,000 prize, which he sees as a way to rethink and reconsider history.
Al-Mutairi used books, popular TV clips, music and personal photos to stir up nostalgia.
“I think the best thing about this conference being published now is that all of us – almost all of the attendees – are around the same age. We had our childhood during the war. We are more mature now and have the ability to activate that memory of things that happened 32 years ago,” he said.
He said he first thought of producing the documentary in 2013 or 2014, and actually finished a similar project in 2015.
Although this short work was critically acclaimed, he plans to continue to search for the “best” way to tell the story. This includes producing a feature film in the future.
“A lot of war movies deal with the military aspect or the political aspect, but the most impressive part, for me, is exploring the social aspect and the human side,” he said.
He said it was difficult to collect all the archival footage and preserve the photos, and decide which stories to use that were the most truthful about the events that unfolded.
In many ways, he uses the war as a way to separate his own life into two main categories: before and after the war. He was about eight or nine years old at the time, and that was the age he started to reflect more deeply on the events happening around him. Today, he encourages viewers of the documentary to try the same with their own lives.
“I think my memories of that time really lurked in the shadows, like flashes from the war. I think the war awoke my memory, and using this documentary is almost like a vehicle to take us on a journey. to go beyond,” he said.
Dhahran’s location for screening at the Saudi Film Festival was particularly meaningful to him.
“The good thing about the screening at Ithra in Dhahran is that it’s the place that was hit many times during the war, actually. We all (everyone who watches the film) live together these flashes of memories that were really happening in the same city as us, so I think that’s a really big projection for me,” he said.