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‘Sea Prayer’: Khaled Hosseini’s Poignant Short Film Is Based On Syrian Refugee Alan Kurdi

Bleating of goats and the sound of children playing is soon replaced with the sounds of bombs, shrapnel hitting the floor. And the plangent wails. Men, women, children — all of them wailing and running away from the mayhem that was home. 


Sea Prayer, a 360 degree illustrated film written by Khaled Hosseini, is barely seven minutes long but packs in quite a punch, narrating the lives of all those families who have been forced to evacuate Syria. Death by bombs or death by sea — most never had much of a chance once the war ensued. 

Hosseini’s story, narrated by an unrestrained Adeel Akhtar, is focused on the day before the boat capsized and the world witnessed a chilling photograph of the three-year-old boy, Alan Kurdi, whose lifeless body had washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015. The image came to represent the thousands of refugees who had lost their homeland, friends and families.  

The story begins with a tranquil picture of a field with goats, a house, children, and a home being painted. A father, speaking to his son, talks about how he would’ve remembered the serene times before the war. 

“I have a sharply etched memory of your mother from that trip, showing you a herd of cows grazing in a field blown through with wild flowers.

I wish you hadn’t been so young.”

From a serene description about how religions co-existed, about the haggling at soukhs, and the smell of kibbehs on the streets, the dark colours silently take shape in the background. It isn’t too sudden, but strike one shade at a time.

“You know a bomb crater can be made into a swimming hole. You have learned dark blood is better news than bright.”


With the words painting a sombre picture of the chaos around, Hosseini’s dialogues are not only haunting but also keeps taking us back to when three-year-old Kurdi’s photo was all the proof the world needed of how the war stole lives, stole childhoods, and rendered millions homeless and Stateless. 

The final image is painted — the faces are shown. In the moonlight, amid the bloodshed and the roaring sea, a father holds on to his child, assuring him things will be fine. Because, as he says, words are all that a father has, and words they will only be. 

They embark on their journey, unbeknownst of what the next day holds.


“All I can do is pray. Pray God steers the vessel true, when the shores slip out of eyeshot and we are a flyspeck in the heaving waters, keeling and titling, easily swallowed.”

Kurdi’s family members were hoping to join their relatives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In the early hours of 2 September, 2015, Kurdi and his family boarded a small plastic or rubber inflatable boat, which capsized about five minutes after leaving Bodrum in Turkey. Sixteen people were on board, which was designed for a maximum of eight people.

It was later found that the life jackets on the boat were fake, and after the boat capsized, bodies kept floating ashore. Alan’s five-year-old brother, Ghalib and mother Rihanna had also drowned. 

Illustrated by Liz Edwards, Sea Prayer is a collaboration between The Guardian‘s own virtual reality team and SoWhen?

Watch the film here: