Sahim Omar Kalifa's Berlinale Generation Kplus selected short Land of the Heroes has won the International Jury Award in Berlin. The prize comes with a €2,500 cheque.

Still from Land of the HeroesIn Land of the Heroes, three kids are killing time. They want to watch cartoons on television. But that seems to be more difficult than expected.

The story draws on the director's experience of growing up during the war between Iraq and Iran. 'We had no choice about what we could watch on TV,' he explains. 'It was always reports about victories by the Iraqi army, and we would have to wait four or five hours to watch a cartoon.' Not only were the Iraqi kids deprived of entertainment, but they were exposed to brutal images of the war. 'There was no one to say that certain things shouldn't be shown to children. So we saw everything.'

The filmmaker is delighted with the award, 'especially as it comes from the International Jury, which to me is a very important sign of recognition.'

Kalifa is from Iraqi Kurdistan. Born in 1980, he stayed behind to finish his studies when his parents and younger siblings left Iraq in 1996. Although he had taken photographs and made video films as a hobby, film school was not an option, so he was stuck studying economics. He left Iraq in 2001 to join his family in Brussels. Once there he began to study accountancy, until a chance encounter with Sint-Lukas prompted him to change direction. Winning the VAF Wildcard for his graduation short Nan was an important encouragement. 'Competition is very tough in Belgium,' he says, 'and without the VAF Wildcard I might not have been able to continue making films. So it was a big opportunity for me.'

Land of the Heroes is produced by Hendrik Verthé and Kobe Van Steenberghe for A Team Productions. It stars Ahmed Nisret, Zana Gandi, Adla Bapir, Naima Abdo, Faryal Bozan, Ali Zebari, Raad Said, Sama Sami and Noor Sami. Directors of photography are Kobe Van Steenberghe and Robrecht Heyvaert, while Hannes De Maeyer signed for the original score.

Another co-production at the Berlinale, Tom Fassaert’s Forum-selected An Angel in Doel, received a special mention from the Ecumenical Jury.

This is the second year in a row that a Flemish short has left Berlin with an award. Last year, Nathalie Teirlinck's Venus Vs. Me grabbed the Best European Short award.

Published on Monday 21 February 2011

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