'Once Upon a Time in Iraq': documentary on 2003 US-led war wins Bafta TV Award

The five-part series shown on BBC Two captures the experiences of ordinary Iraqis who survived the war

A still from documentary series 'Once Upon a Time in Iraq', which won a Bafta TV Award on June 6. IMDb
A still from documentary series 'Once Upon a Time in Iraq', which won a Bafta TV Award on June 6. IMDb

A documentary on the US-led Iraq war of 2003, told by Iraqis who lived through it, won a Bafta TV Award for the Best Factual Series on Monday.

Once Upon a Time in Iraq, directed by James Bluemel and narrated by Andy Serkis, is a five-part documentary that was broadcast on BBC Two in July 2020.

The series humanised the Iraq war and gave a platform to voiceless Iraqis, whose stories were buried by the destruction of the conflict.

The documentary is an honest and harrowing account of how the invasion changed not only their lives, but the world.

During his acceptance speech Bluemel thanked his team whose members “brought something brilliant and unique to the documentary”.

The US-led invasion of Iraq that followed the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003, and the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Firdos Square shortly after, led to decades of war and conflict from which the country still suffers.

The documentary captures the experiences of Iraqis through the chaos, poverty and sectarian wars they endured by giving them the chance to talk about their personal memories.

Once Upon a Time in Iraq (2020) IMDb
A still from Bafta-winning documentary series, 'Once Upon a Time in Iraq' (2020). IMDb

Bluemel and his team consulted with Renad Mansour, senior research fellow and director of the Iraq initiative at London’s Chatham House, to ensure the narrative of 2003 is seen in a historical manner.

“The way the director and his team tried to revisit Iraq from 2003 were taken into account, which meant that questions such as, 'What are the lessons?' and 'How should history be told through the voices of those who haven't had a say?', were considered,” Mr Mansour told The National.

“This is what made it special to me,” he said.

The team interviewed a variety of people, Iraqis and Americans, as well as politicians, but felt that “they have already had their say and that it’s time to give the say to those who are negatively impacted by this war".

The documentary is a platform that gives a voice to Iraqis from all walks of life not previously able to tell their story, he said.

Mr Mansour said he was in awe of the response he received from people who previously showed little interest in Iraq or the research papers he wrote.

“I mean my neighbour, my teammates on my football team, so many people who I never talk to about my work in Iraq, were interested in the documentary and the story,” he said.

Bluemel and Mr Mansour jointly wrote a book about the documentary, which includes interviews and testimonies of those who lived through the horrors of the invasion.

Updated: June 9, 2021 11:44 AM

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