PODCAST| Matt Micucci interviews Antonio Russo Merenda, producer of the documentary The Deminer.
To listen to the interview, click on the ► icon on the right, just above the picture
Antonio Russo Merenda produced the documentary feature The Deminer, directed by Hogir Hirori and Shinwar Kamal, which was presented at the 30th International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). The film takes place in the chaotic aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein, and follows the life of Fakhir, a father of eight who dedicated his life to disarming landmines with his own hands after seeing so many innocent civilians getting injured by them while serving in the Iraqi army. The bulk of the film is composed of archive footage, shot by Fakhir himself and members of his team. It was Kakhir’s eldest son who found them in a suitcase, as Russo Merenda tells us. As he tells us in this interview, it was Hirori who approached him, and showed him ten minutes of the film shortly after he ended his term as documentary film commissioner at the Swedish Film Museum. He recalls that these ten minutes were, to him, “the strongest ten minutes ever [and] we immediately joined forces. He also recalls feeling the need to build “a monument for this incredible character [whose clear goal was] to same as many human lives as possible,” this regardless of race, colour, etc. In this interview, Russo Merenda also tells us about the resonance of The Deminer in light of the recent developments in Northern Iraq. He also talks about the challenge of using aforementioned primary source footage, and about where he hopes the film will travel after IDFA.
The Deminer: In the chaotic aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein, Fakhir, a father of eight, is serving in the Iraqi army. All around him, he sees innocent civilians getting injured by landmines, so he determines to disarm them with his own hands, using just a pocketknife and some wire cutters. He clears thousands of roadside bombs, mines and car bombs, knowing that every time he cuts a wire it could cost him his life—which he seems to find less important than the lives of others. In 2014, by this time having lost a leg, he starts working for the Kurdish Peshmerga, disarming boobytraps left behind by IS in and around Mosul. An enthusiastic home video maker, Fakhir collects hundreds of hours of footage of his day-to-day work. We hear his son’s commentary in voice-over as he watches videos of his heroic father in action. Fakhir perseveres despite the warnings of his colleagues—after all, every ringing cell phone could herald an explosion. Every snip of the wire-cutter almost gives us heart failure as well, because there’s certainly no guarantee of a happy ending here.