‘Messi Baghdad’: Iraqi child actor set to meet Barcelona’s superstar

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Ten-year-old Ali Al-Zaidawi, who acted in the award-winning short film “Messi Baghdad,” is set to meet the Barcelona superstar himself, the film’s director told Al Arabiya.

The 19-minute film shows how violence never crushed the passion Iraqi children have for football, especially for Zaidawi known as Hamoudi in the film, who relentlessly played football despite having one leg amputated because of war.

“After showcasing the movie in film festivals, journalists tried to contact me to arrange a meeting with Barcelona. At first I didn’t take it seriously,” the Belgium-based director, Sahim Omar Kalifa, said.

But in January, one of Argentina’s leading sport’s channels, Depor TV, got in touch with the award-wining Kalifa and scheduled an upcoming trip for Zaidawi and the director to meet Barcelona’s superstar, Lionel Messi.

In the film, Zaidawi wearing a “Messi” jersey, was an avid Barcelona fan, but suffered a major blow when he was kicked from participating in the neighborhood’s football matches because as a one-legged goalkeeper, he failed.

In 2009 and far away from the Iraqi capital Baghdad, getting to watch a football match on television was a difficult and a risky task. Sad and ostracized, Hamoudi’s winning ticket to be accepted back into the Barcelona-crazed group of young ‘footballers,’ was the fact he owned a TV at a time the European championship finals between Manchester and Barcelona was around the corner. But, to his dismay, the TV stops working, sending him and his father on a journey into the danger-ridden Baghdad to have it repaired.

The film’s director, who comes originall from Iraq’s Kurdistan region, said his aim with his movie is to show football’s magic.

“When I used to play football, the only feeling I know was happiness,” he said. “And for a child [Hamoudi], who lives in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, the only feeling he can feel was happiness when playing football,” he said.

“Messi Baghdad”, with a budget of $130,000, was funded by a few different countries starting with Iraq itself then Belgium and the UAE.

Released late in 2012, the movie reaped awards from Belgium and was also premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival. It will soon hit the screens of the prestigious Cannes festival.

The short film is expected to be released on DVD next year.

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