Ishtar Yasin Gutierrez’s autobiographical essay film won IDFA Envision’s Outstanding Artistic Contribution prize

My Lost Country

Source: International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam

‘My Lost Country’

Dir/scr: Ishtar Yasin Gutierrez. Costa Rica/Iraq/Chile/Egypt 2022. 94mins

A multi-layered autobiographical essay-film that serves also as a love-letter both to Costa Rican writer-director Ishtar Yasin Gutierrez’s late father and to his fatherland, Iraq, My Lost Country (Baladi aldaia) won the prize for Outstanding Artistic Contribution in IDFA’s Envision competition. This recognition will likely boost the festival career of the writer-director-editor’s debut feature-length documentary which tracks the fortunes of her family from the 1960s to the present day, starting with her theatre-director father Mohsen relocating to Chile in 1968.

An impressionistic collage including some elements whose precise import is hard to grasp

Five years later he was on the move again fleeing the military coup which deposed Chile’s democratically-elected president Salvador Allende —  with his Chilean-Costa Rican wife and their young daughter Ishtar. Buffeted by the tides of history, the trio found a relatively safe haven in Costa Rica; the most stable and affluent state in Central America.

A product of multiple cultures and influences born in Moscow, she would return there as a student in the late 1980s Ishtar Gutierrez weaves these disparate elements together in her film, trawling the family’s archives for copious photographs and home movies shot on celluloid and video. These are interwoven with her own material, including footage of her aged, fragile father in his final years when resident in London, plus extracts from her previous moving-image work and a piece of avant-garde performance art in which a white-masked figure wanders among the ruins of an Iraqi city.

The result is an impressionistic collage including some elements whose precise import is hard to grasp, and a common peril of intimately personal documentaries  occasionally somewhat diffuse in focus. The circumstances of one especially crucial event, the separation of Yasin Gutierrez’s parents in the late 1970s, remain fuzzily opaque; she clearly spent more time with and felt much closer to her father than to her mother, who is generally a shadowy background figure here.

While all of Ishtar Guiterrez’s work – including 2008 road movie drama The Path (El Camino) – has a strong political element, her chief aim here seems to be an attempt to conjure the world as her father saw it; we glimpse him asleep at one stage, perhaps implying that My Lost Country was playing out in his head. Tender and empathetic on this personal level, with several particularly effective examples of fluent montage, the film gains extra relevance as a tribute to the stoic humanism of individuals like Mohsen Yasin. It shows how they can carry with them an idea of a country across the world, even as that nation is itself destroyed by conflict.

Production company: Astarte Films

International sales: Astarte Films,

Producer: Ishtar Yasin Gutierrez

Cinematography: Ishtar Yasin Gutierrez, Yadira Andrade Viosca, Omeed Khalid, Medoo Ali, Pablo Antonio Fuenzalida

Editing: Ishtar Yasin Gutierrez

Music: Khalid Rawi, Mustafá Basil, Diego Diaz, Héctor Aguilar, Rafael Cheuquelaf, Johann Sebastian Bach