In 2018, The Journey, a film by Mohammed Al-Daradji, hit cinemas for the first time in 25 years, bringing cinematography back to Iraq after years of conflict. Now, two years on, we are seeing the first ever Independent Film Festival in Iraq.
From 21 to 28 August, four Iraqi creatives, including Shahnaz Dulaimy, editor of Oscar-nominated Theeb (2014) and Roísín Tapponi, founder of Habibi Collective, will present a plethora of films from and about Iraq, by both emerging and established Iraqi filmmakers. With over 80 film submissions, the program will empower directors, actors, screen writers, producers, designers and sound artists by giving them a platform to use their artistic voice, showcasing the diversity and resilience of the Iraqi people.
Did we mention that it’s online? Oh, and that it’s free?
The festival opens with Mohammed Al-Daradji’s documentary, War, Love, God & Madness (2008), which poignantly highlights the difficulty of film-making in Iraq, juxtaposed against the strong grassroots nature of the Iraqi film industry. Film crews in the middle of war overcome violent creative oppression, united by their fervent passion for cinema.
Also filmed in Baghdad, the second feature screening presents Oday Rasheed’s Qarantina (2010), a subtle, yet beautiful, drama that follows a broken family which takes on a mysterious lodger. Intricate framing will leave you tethered to the characters, trapped in a mental state of imprisonment.
The final two feature films are shot by diasporic filmmakers, exiled from their homeland due to the threat of their creativity as perceived by Iraq’s dictatorship at the time. Samir presents his latest film, Baghdad in my Shadow (2019). Set in a fictional Iraqi Communist café in the heart of West London, this feature is a gripping thriller spotlighting Iraqis haunted by their political pasts. A Q&A with Samir will follow, which will traverse how Baghdad is rendered in the postcolonial, exilic and Western imagination.
Kasim Adib’s Mirrors of Diaspora (2018) is up now, exploring themes of exile, creativity and war told through the lives of seven Iraqi artists, displaced from their homeland. At an unprecedented time of global migration, this documentary asks the timely question; what are the consequences of spending most of one’s life in exile?
Coming next, the film shorts.
Hussein Al-Assadi’s She Was Not Alone takes these in an amusing direction, documenting a woman living alone in the marshes of southern Iraq who has an interesting way of talking to animals, and shedding further light on the resilience of rural Iraqi women.
Additional exciting shorts include the experimental short film Baba Boom Boom (2016) which balances on the rich oral traditions within Iraqi culture and Haidar Jehad’s Talking Heads (2016) which depicts the heart-wrenching ambitions and desires of young men as they dream of a better life.
The second shorts programme, Gender Utopia: Contemporary Feminisms in Iraqi Cinema, centres the voices of young Iraqi women. The talented actress, Zahraa Ghandour, collaborates with Tarek Turkey to create an experimental short film, I Dream (2020), a sensual reflection of the reality of isolation during COVID-19.
Elodie Baldwin’s Shahmaran (2020) manipulates animation techniques to offer a fresh reading of the ancient mythical creature, the Shahmaran, half-woman, half-snake, found in differing variations in the folklore of Iran, Anatolia, Iraq and the Kurds.
And there are plenty more poignant and personal reflections where these came from. Get ready for some seriously impressive Arab artists. We hope you're as excited as we are!
You can watch the festival on the website screening page, which will be going live in the next few days, here iiffestival.com