Interview with Isabelle Stead, Producer on In The Sands of Babylon (2013)

Mohamed Al-Daradji’s In The Sands of Babylon (2013) looks at the terrible and unknown truths behind the Gulf War in 1991. In search of answers about the past and spurred on by the discovery of mass graves throughout Iraq, Al-Daradji confronted three survivors of the uprising. In unravelling the courageous and tragic secrets of these survivors, the film revisits a fateful climax in the killing fields of Babylon. Producer, Isabelle Stead, speaks to us about where the original idea for the film came from and its timely screening in the UK.

ASFF: Can you tell me where the original idea for In The Sands of Babylon came from?
In 2003, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Director, Mohamed Al-Daradji, heard a story on the radio about the discovery of mass gravesites across Iraq. It really posed huge questions that remained unanswered, and still remain largely unanswered – How did so many people just disappear? What were their Crimes? What happened to their families? Originally, In The Sands of Babylon was part of an intertwined story with Mohamed’s previous film, Son of Babylon. However, the reality of the project we had undertaken quickly dawned on us – we had a great deal of content and footage, simply too much for one film. So the decision was made to create two separate films; one is the story of elderly ladies searching for missing sons, the other, the tale of an innocent victim of some of the worst atrocities in world history.

ASFF: The film is obviously extremely timely, how have you found audiences have reacted to it?
The UK release of the film does seem timely. The fact of the matter is that it is purely coincidental that the film should reflect the current situation in Iraq; there are striking parallels that can be seen in what happened 23 years ago and what is happening now. It is a case of history repeating itself. It just goes to show how fragile and volatile society can be. It wasn’t planned on our part. In many cases, people have appeared overwhelmed by the film – it certainly is a moving account of a chapter that has been, for the most part forgotten. In light of what is currently happening in Iraq, it is important that we don’t forget such events and that we remind world audiences that there are innocent people suffering in the world.

ASFF: How did you go about researching for the film? Were people willing to discuss the conflict?
Researching the film was, by all accounts, difficult. Even now, people in Iraq are unwilling to talk about the atrocities, but of course they have their reasons; the fear of repercussions against them or their families, the unwillingness to face their country’s past. Perhaps the pain is too great for them to bear. Most likely they simply don’t know anything. There was so much oppression and censorship under Sadam that information nowadays is not widely available. Even today there is no clear number of people who are missing or where their bodies are located. We were lucky that we had the opportunity to speak with three survivors of these atrocities – three of only a handful who survived. Their stories are harrowing, terrifying and dehumanising but ones that must be told. It was hard for them to open up, but their stories are fascinating. In revealing their horrendous tales, they became part of the film, the central story line reflecting their experiences.

ASFF: The film deals with political issues to do with conflict and war, do you think film has the power to make a difference? And to improve the political landscape for the better?
Our intention is not to make political films. We do not present biased views or impose any kind of thinking on our audiences. We simply seek to make human stories with heart and honesty behind them. Over politics, we favour human rights issues, relating to some of the world’s most unfortunate. Inevitably when your work involves human rights, this leads to politics. It is our aim to change the world through film and this is, without doubt, completely feasible – we have already proved this on a number of occasions; Son of Babylon was successful in lobbying for a change in laws in Iraq, introducing DNA testing and identification for some of Iraq’s one million+ missing people. The film In My Mother’s Arms successfully raised funds for an orphanage in Iraq. There is no reason that film can’t continue to change the world – as long as there is an audience, there are potential world changers.

ASFF: In The Sands of Babylon has recently appeared at Raindance, London, are there other places you’d like to see it screened?
There has been a lot of interest from festivals all over the world so we will be screening the film internationally. Of course, it would be amazing to have the film screened where it really counts – where it can make a difference and help to influence the decisions of leaders and organizations that have the power to implement changes in the world. We have been fortunate enough to have screened our work all of the world and we foresee a great future for this film.

To find out more about In The Sands of Babylon, visit

1. In The Sands of Babylon, 2013, courtesy of Human Film.