World Premiere: Baghdad Messi by Sahim Omar Kalifa


This year, the International Short Film Festival in Leuven, Belgium, is taking place from 1 till 8 December. This 18th edition is looking very promising. Several short films from all over the world will be selected to take part in the festival. One film will be announced as the winner of the Flanders Short Film Competition. Twenty directors are competing for the first prize, one among them being Sahim Omar Kalifa, whose newest short Baghdad Messi will feature at the festival.


Every career starts with a dream

Sahim Omar Kalifa was born in 1980 in the Iraqi part of Kurdistan. He wanted to pursue his dream to become a movie director, but in the absence of film schools in Kurdistan, he settled for a course in accountancy. When he was 21 years old Sahim lost two brothers, who were murdered by the Turkish Secret Service. He then decided to escape the country and flee to Belgium. Together with seven other Kurdish men, he spent one week inside a truck heading to Brussels. The lack of food and water, the fatigue and smell of human faeces turned surviving the journey into a true challenge to survive the journey.

Once in Belgium, Sahim settled down with the small part of his family that was already living in the country. He didn’t feel threatened by the Turkish and Iraqi army anymore, a feeling that had constantly affected him in his homeland. Finally the time had come to chase his big dream and start a career in the film industry. He decided to apply for the admission exam of the Sint-Lukas film school in Brussels. He passed and was accepted consequently for the Audiovisual Arts programme.


The first steps onto the road of success

Sahim’s first short film was called ‘Ava Res’ (‘Black Water’) and proved to be a great success. In 2006, the movie won the jury prize at the Melbourne Kurdish Film Festival. His final project at the end of his masters studies was a short entitled ‘Nan’ (‘Bread’), a social drama telling the story of an Iranian family living illegally in Leuven. The youngest son finds himself in a troubled situation, but is supported by a local waffles seller. The little boy struggles to strike a balance between the loyalty to his family, and to his new friend.

‘Nan’ was presented at the International Short Film Festival of Leuven in 2008 and received a wildcard from the Flemish Audiovisual Fund (VAF). Sahim was rewarded a sum of € 60,000, taking this sum with him when he travelled to Kurdistan two years later. There he started shooting a new project which resulted in the short film ‘Land of the Heroes’. Sahim evoked his own childhood memories of living through the war between Iraq and Iran. He granted the leading roles to the characters of Dileer and Zinee, a brother and sister living in Iraq, setting the story in the year 1988. Every day, the two play games that hardly differ from what is happening in the cruel world outside. The war mentality has become engrained in their minds having left no traces of their childlike innocence. The opening scene shows us Dileer, wearing a Spiderman costume, secretly sneaking up onto a defence line. For a moment it looks like Dileer’s adventure will have a bad ending. But then a soldier appears, who praises Dileer for his great courage. In his sister’s eyes, Dileer is a hero.

Widely acclaimed

In 2010, the International Short Film Festival in Leuven had the honour to stage the world premiere of ‘Land of the Heroes’. Subsequently the movie travelled the world over to be screened at other international festivals. Sahim Omar Kalifa’s film enjoyed overwhelming success. His short film was selected for the 61st edition of the Berlinale, the most important film festival in Berlin, winning the jury prize. ‘Land of the Heroes’ was also well received at other film festivals in countries like South-Korea, Italy and Dubai. Recently, on the 4th of November, the film snatched its 20th prize at the International Film Festival in Turkey. Clearly, ‘Land of the Heroes’ is on its way to become the most successful Flemish short film in recent years.


Baghdad Messi, the newest short film by relevation Sahim Omar Kalifa, is premiered at the International Film Festival in Leuven starting today. The short film is also the opening film in the main competition at Dubai International Film Festival (9-16 december 2012). The story takes places in Iraq in the year 2009. The protagonist’s name is Hamoudi, who is very passionate about football, just like any 10-year-old boy. The loss of one leg doesn’t stop him from loving the sport. Together with his friends and the rest of the world, he anxiously awaits the start of the Champions League final. Messi, the FC Barcelona star player, and Ronaldo, Manchester United’s lucky charm, will be competing with each other. But on the day of the big finale, suddenly the tv set breaks down…


Expectations for this short film are very high. Sahim Omar Kalifa will compete with other big names in Flemish cinema like Toon Aerts, Gilles Coullier, Leni Huyghe and Raf Roossens. Winning the jury prize at the festival in Leuven would mean a great boost for any short film, as has been proven by the success story of ‘Land of the Heroes’. The question remains whether ‘Baghdad Messi’ will become as big as ‘Land of the Heroes’, or even exceed its success?

Feeling curious about this new short film by Sahim Omar Kalifa? Then don’t hesitate to visit the festival in Leuven during December 1-8. ‘Baghdad Messi’ is shown on several days. The short film Land of the Heroes is also on the programme. The winner of the Best Flemish Short Film 2012 award will be announced on the closing night of the festival.


Trailer Baghdad Messi

Trailer Land of the Heroes

More information:
Written by Charlotte Coene
Photos: IKL & Sahim Omar Kalifa



This post is also available in: Dutch