A solitary figure dressed in fatigues hunches over a dusty patch of ground. He scratches away at the earth and pulls from it a pot flecked with gritty, dried soil. As he adjusts to stand straight, there is a marked stiffness in his right leg and a curious crease in the thigh of his trousers. A blue wire attached to a small pack dangles from the pot. A quick snip from a pair of pliers and the man turns to the camera, holds up the wire and says, “This is the heart of a mine. If you remove it, you are safe.” So, opens Hogir Hirori and Shinwar Kamal’s documentary, The Deminer.

Strung together using archival footage collected from 10 years active service, The Deminer tells the story of Colonel Fakhir Berwari, a Kurdish soldier who after the fall of Saddam’s Ba’athist regime relentlessly worked to disarm the many mines and improvised explosive devices that littered Iraq’s towns, villages and countryside.

In many ways, this is a companion piece to Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. But, this is its non-fiction cousin, replacing Hollywood dramatics for real-life horror. The politics of the conflict and its shift from American occupation to the arrival and proliferation of Deash looms in the background, but the focus remains heavily on Fakhir and his tireless efforts, unending sense of duty and their impact on his family.

The majority of the film’s footage was caught on phones and handheld cameras landing you up front and centre and watching with nervous tension as a Fakhir unearths, snips and moves from mine to mine. His dogged persistence resulted in the loss of a leg (that did not stop him from continuing his work) and later, in November of 2014, his eventual death. What exists here, in the footage amassed, is the portrait of a man that celebrates him not through guts and glory storytelling, but with a candid honesty.

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