Arts & Culture

Iraqi film series offers rare glimpse into bleak world

3 min read

Beginning today through Saturday (April 17-19), the Tsai Auditorium at the Center for Government and International Studies (CGIS) will host selections from the first international Iraq Short Film Festival (originally held in Baghdad in 2005). These films, together with other new Iraqi films, have never been screened before in the United States.

All of the films in the groundbreaking series have been made in Iraq since 2003 and offer a fascinating glimpse into a world of horror and, at times, humor, as normal life attempts to pick its way through the chaos of war.

Poet, novelist, and filmmaker Sinan Antoon Ph.D. ’06 will open the series by introducing his film “About Baghdad.” Each screening will be followed by an open discussion of the issues raised by the film. Any money donated by participants (though attendance is free, donations are welcome) will be directed to Rally for Iraq, a new charity that supports Iraqis pursuing higher education.

The program kicks off this evening (April 17) with an opening address by Antoon, followed by “About Baghdad” (the 90-minute film is in English and Arabic with English subtitles). The program of events for each day of the series will begin at 7 p.m.

In July of 2003, exiled writer and poet Antoon returned to his native Baghdad with a team of independent filmmakers, artists, and activists to document the effects that decades of oppression, war, sanctions, and occupation have had on the city. The result is a fascinating mosaic of opinions and perspectives that offer a picture far more complex than the limited one presented by mainstream media.

On April 18, the series will screen documentaries from the Iraq Short Film Festival, including “Damned Gum” by Ammar Saad, “The Office of Security” by Hadi Mahood, and “Film About Cilema” by Uday Salah. These first two films were joint winners of the best documentary award at the festival.

“Damned Gum” examines a young journalist’s perspective after his partner is killed. “The Office of Security,” named after the building where Saddam Hussein’s authorities tortured dissidents, explores the office’s new inhabitants — homeless families with nowhere else to go. “Film About Cilema,” meanwhile, tells the story of Iraqi cinema (mispronounced by Iraqis as “cilema”) and of the country’s first film festival told through the eyes of two young Iraqi filmmakers.

“Dreams of Sparrows” by director Haydar Daffar will close out the series on April 19. In Arabic with English subtitles, the 70-minute film is the product of two years of traveling the Iraqi streets documenting how dreams of liberation became nightmares of occupation. Some of the footage was captured on cameras borrowed by Daffar from foreign journalists staying at the Baghdad hotel where he worked. After the screening, there will be a musical performance on the oud, a traditional Iraqi instrument and father to the European lute and guitar.