Dhikra Sarsam (b. Baghdad 1965) is a documentary film-maker and children’s illustrator. Her colourful collages and children’s illustrations recount local and religious tales, famous poems, fairy tales and the Arabian Nights. She has worked on a number of documentaries, including Rahma Zainab and others, about under-age marriage in Iraq and is an active member of the film and documentary community in Baghdad. She runs the Burj Babel Centre for Media Development, an arts and media centre in Baghdad.
What was the first tale that you remember being told? I think it was “Leila and the Wolf,” the story of Leila, a young girl who goes to visit her grandmother, but then runs into an evil wolf. My aunt used to tell this and other tales over and over again. Each time, I dreaded the words “When the wolf swallows her grandmother”. I felt that there were many ways to stop this, and never let it happen.
What tales do you base your work on? I base my work on the Arabian nights, legends from Iraq’s ancient civilisations and Iraqi poems written for children. In some of the ancient tales, we can learn more about the history and the lifestyle of the people who wrote them.
What is your favorite place in Baghdad and why? The riverbank, because the presence of water is linked to the existence of life. The existence of this city is thanks to the presence of the river in this place.
You work a lot with documentaries and short films. What has been your favourite project so far? I worked on a UN-funded documentary, Rahma, Zainab and others, about the marriage of young girls in Iraq. I interviewed two girls who had been married and divorced by the age of 14.
What Arabian Nights tale would you like to make a film about? Why? I would like to make a movie not about a certain tale but about the mermaids in the Arabian Nights because as characters they are known as intelligent and talented. For example, they play chess and write poems among other things.
You were a member of the jury at the 2013 edition of the Iraqi Short Film Festival. Why is it important to support Iraqi artists and filmmakers? It is a part of supporting freedom of expression. As long as Iraq continues to develop we cannot ensure independent support, especially when the ministries are being led by political parties who form part of the authorities and participate in forming the government. In addition, there is the absence of social security for those citizens without a fixed income.
What are your upcoming projects? I’m very busy running Burj Babel, an arts and media centre in Baghdad. Our latest exhibition, Tarkib, invited young Iraqi artists to display their installation works. I am also producing a documentary about women who collect salt, and another one about the Yazidis, an ancient religion from Northern Iraq.