Award-winning film director chose Kurdistan location for feature film ‘Baghdad Messi’

‘Baghdad Messi’ was originally a short film Kalifa released in 2013. It has earned 60 awards and was reportedly shortlisted for an Oscar in 2014.
Kurdish movie director Sahim Omar Kalifa during a film shooting session. (Photo: Bram Goots)
Kurdish movie director Sahim Omar Kalifa during a film shooting session. (Photo: Bram Goots)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Sahim Omar Kalifa, a Belgian-Kurdish filmmaker, filmed a feature-length movie called “Baghdad Messi” this summer near the old citadel of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region. The picture is expected to hit theaters next year.

The award-winning director made a short film with the same name in 2013, earning him 60 awards. It was also shortlisted for an Oscar award in 2014

Baghdad Messi focuses on the story of a young boy named Hamoudi who has lost one leg and is obsessed with football. He admires professional football player Lionel Messi, who now plays for the Paris Saint-Germain Football Club.

The one-legged child actor Ali al-Zaidawi, who plays Hamoudi in the film, met Messi in Dubai in 2013.

A Baghdad Messi film set. (Photo: Bram Goots)

Filming in Erbil took place between June and July 2020, and there were a number of scenes in Mosul within 32 shooting days.

“Everyone worked very hard to make a good movie,” Kalifa told Kurdistan 24, expressing excitement that the short film “reached millions of people.”

“The topic and the character attracted a lot of people and it was a story that people liked to see,” he added, noting the difficulty to “reach a lot of people” with short films compared to feature-length movies and television shows.

Short films are “just for festivals. We know this film feature will be much better, and we had more time to discover the character.”

One of the biggest film distribution companies in Europe, Wild Bunch, has already bought the rights to the film.

Kalifa explained that he decided to film the picture almost entirely in Kurdistan, not in Baghdad since bringing an international film crew to the Kurdistan Region is easier.

“In Baghdad, you have a new checkpoint every kilometer, where they ask for your ID card, permission, and passport,” he said. “You lose a lot of time during filming.”

In Kurdistan, however, he did not have this issue with the police, who assisted him during the movie shoot, closing off roads and keeping interested spectators away from the movie set, Kalifa added.

The filmmaker also highlighted that the foreign crew could get insurance in the region with relative ease while the process in Baghdad was more difficult.

The film crew had members from Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, the United States, Turkey, Iraq, Kurdistan and other countries.

For Baghdad Messi, they also filmed in Mosul for a day.

“But one day we lost three hours to checkpoints and more. And the problem is that the police should escort you (because of the foreign film crew).”

Nevertheless, he said it was not an issue to film in Erbil. “We selected places that really looked like Baghdad. We shot in Erbil in Tairawa neighborhood, all the buildings are from the sixties and eighties, and it looks like Baghdad now.”

Kalifa expects production to conclude by May 2022 and the film to hit theatres in October 2022.

Kalifa was born in 1980 in Zakho. He settled in Belgium in 2001 and pursued his education. In 2008, he received his Master’s Degree from Sint-Lukas Film School.