The Deminer directed by Hogir Hirori and Shinwar Kamal demonstrates how much one person can do for their community. The Swedish documentary is indeed “like an action movie, only it’s real”, as one of the characters says at the very beginning of the film.

The Deminer tells the story of Colonel Fakhir, who is on a mission and soon becomes a hero in his native Iraqi Kurdish city of Duhok. Despite all the danger, he is out in the field to disarm the landmines to put an end to the constant threat under which the locals need live. Even if one of his legs gets amputated, he continues to save lives. He does it because “no one else would do it”, he says. He doesn’t wear protective gear, walks with the help of a clearly uncomfortable prosthetic leg and uses only a pair of wire cutters to disarm all the bombs. His courageous acts are documented by either him, Shinwar Kamal or one of his assistance, as he always makes sure that no civilians are in danger when entering a ruined house probably full of explosions. He is hardly seen as a civilian in the film, but his delightful, easy-going personality is surely unforgettable.

Hogir Hirori and Shinwar Kamal’s documentary is not an easy piece to watch but the light at the end of the tunnel is always there – chiefly because of the positive attitude Colonel Fakhir shows. He is completely aware of the situations being extremely dangerous and life-threatening, but he wakes up every morning to make it possible for others to be able to go to bed with fewer worries. Of course, one can say that his army life is more vital to him than his private one, and this might be actually true considering what his eldest son tells about him. However, working for the community also means taking care of his own family, though not with his presence but by scanning the area looking for mines and disarming them. By doing this, he provides others with the opportunity to move back their houses used to be occupied by ISIS.

In the film, the content plays a more important role than the technical achievement in film-making; in other words, the what has more relevance than the how. The Deminer is a portrait film depicting terror and fear, and a slight glimpse of hope. There would be no film without the suitcase of footage that Fakhir’s son found when cleaning the house while getting ready to move somewhere else. The film is edited by creating two storylines: the first one follows Colonel Fakhir on his mission and lets the audience know him by watching and listening to him, in the second one Fakhir’s family tells stories about him giving another layer to his personality. As the film is written by life and the events are selected by the film-makers, tension, drama and mundane moments are the main components. The film undeniably evokes more questions than answers, still forms a complete story. Sometimes documentaries tend to be too lengthy, The Deminer does not. By giving a detailed portrait of an absolutely warm-hearted Kurdish man/soldier, the film also informs its audience about the current situation in the area. No more minutes are needed to understand what has happened and what is going on. The film doesn’t really shed light on issues related to ethnicities in this specific part of Iraq, but – as the screening at the Göteborg Film Festival proved – viewers being familiar with the languages spoken there can realise that Fakhir never makes exceptions, he helps everyone. It’s truly a cliché but the phrase “we’re all in this together” very much characterises the everyday life of those people living in the northern part of Iraqi Kurdistan, close to the Turkish border.

In today’s political climate, films, like The Deminer, have a great deal of significance because they illustrate what it is like to live in an area devastated by wars. They can also give an explanation, a better understanding of why people decide to leave their homes and look for a new one elsewhere: everyone wants to be safe, but, unfortunately, not everyone can have their own Fakhir.

This review is in the March issue of Cinema Scandinavia. 

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  • Directed by Hogir Hirori
  • Produced by Hogir Hirori & Antonio Russo Merenda for Lolav Media
Barbara Majsa

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.