Development Feature Documentary Film Projects

40 Years of Silence


Iraq, UK, Sweden / 90 min

Director: Maythem Ridha

Producer: Maythem Ridha



SYNOPSIS – 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 / British 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 Al-hariri, a paediatrician, left his home in Baghdad for a regular shift at his hospital, never to return. Leaving behind his wife, aged 23, two sons and his daughter, Zainab, aged 6. From that night on Zainab has been asking countless questions. Why had he abandoned her? Did he not love her? Why do adults always shush her into silence every time she asks about her father? These questions kept haunting 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 in 1990. It was here in the UK (a country which had a major role bringing Saddam to power and supporting him during the Iran / Iraq war) that she 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 6-year-old still hurting within her. Now a mother of three adult children, who witnesses the loving relationship between her husband and their children, Zainab can no longer remain silent or offer her children the same superficial responses that she received as a child. For this film, Zainab will meet key individuals who can help her to put the jigsaw pieces together of the events that lead to her father’s execution. Each one has a story to tell and each of their stories unravels for us an aspect of Iraq under Saddam.


Starting in the UK, Zainab meets Dr Richard 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 – charming them with his beautiful smile… than in executing Saddam… This was before he became radicalised”. 


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).


We have secured exclusive access to the main protagonists and several witnesses who knew Dr Ghazi as well as a special permission from the Iraqi government to interview the most dangerous of the perpetrators under the former Saddam regime being held in the highly secure 5th Division Prison in Baghdad. Here Zainab will confront those responsible for her father’s execution and for the three decades of persecution under Saddam.


As Zainab meets people and discovers information she opens herself up to difficult emotional and psychological experiences. Experiences which need to be processed. As the director behind the camera, Maythem is never seen, we only hear his voice and questions  (Guided by an offscreen psychotherapist). Within this space Maythem asks Zainab questions. Digging deeper into her unconscious and allowing her to confront the trauma she experienced as a little girl. Questions that aim to unravel Zainab’s past trauma and guide her on her journey of acceptance and healing. Intertwined within the stories are Zainab’s childhood memories, which will be reconstructed in a lyrical child’s eye re-dramatisation. Will this journey heal Zainab’s open wounds?

Director: Maythem Ridha

MAYTHEM RIDHA – Director | Producer – Maythem spent his formative years in Iraq before fleeing with his family into exile. He has many years’ experience creating award-winning film and photography projects.  His films have been selected for major international film festivals, broadcasted, distributed in cinemas and won many accolades and prizes. He also made films in English & Arabic for BBC World Service and ART Europe. 


Maythem wrote IRAQI TALES, a body of stories for film, at the University of Oxford and then at the National Film & Television School (UK). From this DRIFTING ON THE WIND  was chosen by over 20 international film festivals, winning the Director’s Award at Hearts & Minds. Following this, AL-BAGHDADI won the Gold Prize for Best Foreign Language Film at the International Filmmaker Festival. ALI AND HIS MIRACLE SHEEP, his latest instalment from IRAQI TALES is currently in the final stages of post production.


Maythem’s photographic work has been published and exhibited in several one-man shows and joint exhibitions of award-winning projects such as AL-INTITHAR, INTERFACE and the more recent MY CAMERA IN EXILE collections. Winner of Al Hambra Award for Excellence in the Arts, Maythem works with a diverse range of international projects. After the Iraqi Cultural Centre (UK) held an exhibition of his work in London, he began the development of his successfully published photo book, BEYOND MOMENTS : MOROCCO..  Maythem is currently working on several new film and photography projects including 40 YEARS OF SILENCE and TEAR MAKER which is set against the backdrop of the Iraqi desert.

Producer: Zainab Al-Hariri

ZAINAB AL-HARIRI – Protagonist | Producer | Co-Director –   Zainab graduated in Film and Media Production from Leeds Metropolitan University and worked for several years as editor and post-production supervisor at award-winning Human Film (UK) on films such as PATH OF MARIAM, KINGDOM OF GARBAGE and CHILDREN OF GOD. Since then her credits include script supervisor on Matthew Michael Carnahan’s latest film MOSUL and is currently editing ALI & HIS MIRACLE SHEEP, a 26-minute hybrid doc, by Maythem Ridha. 


Zainab is proud of her origins and strives to translate her passion into greater international understanding of her homeland and culture through her film work. Actively involved with the Arab community in the UK and aiming to bridge the cultural divide within the UK, Zainab has faced challenges as a visibly Muslim female in a predominantly male secular industry and is now ready for new challenges. 

Co-producer: Andreas Rocksén

Andreas Rocksén is a Swidsh journalist, director and producer that for twenty five years has produced dramas and documentaries for cinema and national and international broadcasters. 


Since 2004 Andreas Rocksén has been the founder and shareholder of Laika Film & Television AB. In recent years Andreas has had films represented at Cannes “THE BEAUTY AND THE DOGS”, Venice , Sundance, IDFA “ARICA” and “THE MAN WHO SOLD HIS SKIN” is the opening film of the 2021 Malmo Arab Film Festival and has been nominated for the Academy Oscar Awards.