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“Sandlines”, the story of Iraq told by its children

François Alÿs, a Belgian multidisciplinary artist, proposes a touching dreamlike work in which he stages the children of the Nerkzlia valley, not far from the checkpoint of Peshmerga, and makes them tell in their own way the tumultuous history of the country. 

François Alÿs, a Belgian multidisciplinary artist, proposes a touching dreamlike work in which he stages the children of the Nerkzlia valley, not far from the checkpoint of Peshmerga, and makes them tell in their own way the tumultuous history of the country.

That’s when he decided to pass the time by filming the local youth. In this remote region, the one-hour film questions globalization, and the positive or negative effects of over-connection to the rest of the world. It also raises the question of the local youth’s knowledge of the history and geography of the country, as the film opens with a young person revealing that he has never heard of Iraq. He simply lives “here”, he explains, in Nerkzlia. A work that is as light and dreamlike, as illustrated by the home-made costumes made by the young actors, as it is rich in meaning and symbols, as when a game of leapfrog subtly criticizes Iraqi governance. 

Freedom of play and open-mindedness

The basic idea was to create a short film showing children drawing lines in the sand (hence the name), in reference to the Sykes-Picot line, which drew the area in 1916. But, struck by the young actors’ lack of knowledge of the region, he decided to change the scope of his project, resulting in this touching one-hour film. From then on, the director took the decision to direct his troupe as little as possible in order to give them a great deal of freedom to play: “The game consisted of setting minimal instructions, in relation to the different scenes we wanted to reconstruct, and letting the children find their own way of playing it, letting them appropriate these historical characters and invent their own version of the story. One thing I discovered very quickly was that there are many different versions of the events, and each of them with an element of truth. It wasn’t up to me to be the authority. It was up to them to give their own reading, and to create a kind of parody of the adult world.