Broken but not beaten: Iraqi filmmakers fight for justice

Broken but not beaten: Iraqi filmmakers fight for justice
Culture: In 2003, an independent film industry in Iraq emerged from the ashes of a broken Baghdad.
3 min read
20 May, 2015
Taken from Odai Rasheed's 2010 film 'Qarantina'
The history of Iraqi cinema is not a particularly lengthy one.

For the whole of the past century, Iraqis largely fumbled around in the world of film.

By the end of 2003, there were no more than a hundred films that had been made and produced in Iraq.

Propaganda and war

Many of these were simply propaganda films with the aim of bolstering support for Saddam Hussein's regime - and his wars.

Other directors fell into the fruitless trap of making degrading and vulgar comedy.

When the chaos unfolded on April 9, 2003, as US troops occupied Baghdad, a young Iraqi film director understood the situation perfectly.

Oday Rasheed headed for the department of cinema and theatre in Iraq and retrieved its old and expired film equipment.

He used the kit to produce his first film, Underexposure, in 2005.

Rasheed set the ball rolling for the nascent film industry in Iraq, and freed directors from the burdens of politics.

Mohamed al-Daradji followed with his debut film, Dreams, in 2005, and before long the two directors were surrounded by fresh cinematography graduates from the academy of fine arts in Baghdad.

The pair shared a common vision of independent cinema, and Rasheed and al-Daradji began to develop the idea of establishing the Iraqi Independent Film Production Centre in 2009.

Rasheed devised an outline for the centre, and, two years later, managed to secure a building in al-Rasheed Street, downtown Baghdad, from which to run operations.

Fall of Baghdad

Since then, the centre has been responsible for the production of 20 short and feature-length films.

In February, the team celebrated its sixth anniversary, using the occasion to reject the corruption that had crept into Iraqi culture.

During the celebration, the founders of the film centre broke red pens, a symbolic act of defiance against the Iraqi ministry of culture, which had refused to finance the films they had put forward.

"The centre has rendered a considerable service to cinema, in the face of theatres lying in ruins, converted to scrap heaps, and the entire infrastructure of Iraqi culture destroyed," Mohanad Hayal, filmmaker and media director at the centre said.

"The centre has presented the Iraqi government, on more than one occasion, with a plan for developing the film sector in the country, but they weren't interested in the slightest," he said. 

The centre has collected close to 100 Arab and international film awards, with Mohamed al-Daradji's Son of Babylon alone receiving 22 prizes.

The centre's most recent achievement was a Crystal Bear for best short film at this year's Berlin film festival, for Salam Salman's Gift of My Father.

The centre is preparing to produce six new films, one being Rasheed's adaption of Sinan Antoon's novel Hail Mary, which reflects on the experiences of Christians living in Baghdad during the occupation.

And, with Iraq as it is, there are many more tragic stories waiting to be told.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.