40 YEARS OF SILENCE is a character-led hybrid documentary, part observational part constructed and subjective in its gaze. It uses dramatic sequences and flashbacks, archive footage and photographs to follow Zainab Al-Hariri, an Iraqi mother who lives in the UK on a journey back to her homeland to confront those responsible for executing her father and to heal her traumatic past. A journey she has feared and dreaded, a journey to reconcile the profound love and the profound sense of abandonment she feels towards her father. 
On 4th December 1979, Zainab’s father, Dr Ghazi, a paediatrician, left Baghdad home for his regular shift at hospital, never to return. Leaving behind his wife,  two sons and his daughter, Zainab, aged 6. From that night on Zainab has been asking countless questions. Why had her father abandoned her? Did he not love her? Why do adults always shush her into silence every time she asks about him? These questions haunted little Zainab whilst the surviving family spent 10 years in Iraq moving from one safe house to another until they finally fled to the UK. It was in the UK that she finally learnt what happened to her father. He was executed due to an assumed plot to assassinate Saddam Hussein on his visit to the hospital where Dr Ghazi worked.
Now, 40 years on, Zainab searches for what happened to her father and how she can heal that little girl still hurting within her. As a mother, she witnesses the loving relationship between her husband and their children, she can no longer remain silent. For this film, Zainab will meet key individuals who can help her to put together the jigsaw pieces of the events that lead to her father's execution. Each has a story to tell and each of their stories unravels for us an aspect of Iraq under Saddam.
Zainab makes sacrifices before she embarks on this journey. She leaves her family in Leeds, especially her young son who depends on her as he struggles with Multiple Sclerosis. Is she abandoning him like her father abandoned her 40 years ago? Traveling to London, Zainab meets Dr Yakub who was her father's best friend when they were pupils at a private Christian School in Baghdad. Zainab prods him for stories about the time her father was “more interested in partying with girls than in assassinating Saddam.”
Eventually returning to Iraq, Zainab meets Dr Zuhair, the government medic who supervised her father’s execution. Initially reluctant to talk, Dr Zuhair finally opens up, as if he had been waiting 40 years for someone to come and ask him about Dr Ghazi.  He reveals the minute by minute account of the torture and interogation and how her father refused to collaborate with Saddam until he was finally executed. (Dr Zuhair has become an important ally on this project and shares with us his own story and trauma after witnessing so many executions before escaping Saddam’s Iraq).
As Zainab meets people and discovers information she opens herself up to difficult emotional and psychological experiences. Experiences which need to be processed. Utilising his psychotherapy training Maythem, as the director behind the camera, is never seen, we only hear his voice and questions. Within this space Maythem’s questions dig deeper into Zainab’s unconscious and encourage her to confront what she experienced as a little girl. Unraveling Zainab's past trauma he guide her on her journey of acceptance and healing. Intertwined within her stories are Zainab's childhood memories, which will be reconstructed in a lyrical child’s eye re-dramatisation.
We have secured exclusive access to the main characters close to Dr Ghazi as well as a special permission from the Iraqi government to film inside Abu Ghraib prison (where Ghazi spent his last hours before he was executed). We have also secured access to interview the most dangerous of perpetrators under the former Saddam regime. Here Zainab will confront those responsible for her father’s execution unraveling the three decades of persecution under Saddam. Will this journey heal Zainab’s open wounds?

Official Selection - CloseUp Initiative development programme.
Official Selection - Sheffield Doc Fest - MeetMarket programme.
Official Selection - Mountain Film Continuity Grant Award.
Official Selection - Connecting Stories - Scottish Documentary Institute / British Council.
Official Selection - Malmo Arab Film Festival - finalist for funding programme.
Official Selection - Medi Med - Pitching Forum.
Official Selection - Iraqi Film Institute development programme.
SVT - Swedish Television funding.

Writer & Director: Maythem Ridha, Cast: Zainab Al-Hariri, Producer: Maythem Ridha, Co-Producers: Mostafa Nagy, Andreas ROCKSÉN, Associate Producer: Zainab Al-Hariri, Cinematographer: Samir Ljuma & Duraid Al Munajim, Sound: Fin Blackett , Graphics: Ibrahim Ahmed.
Back to Top