Waking up to the sounds of screeching sirens and loud explosions is nothing new to the people of war-torn Iraq. But, the ghost of better days lingers in the streets of the once-bustling towns. Amidst the gloom, people of this war-ravaged nation are hoping to see a resurrection of the lost art of cinema.
Iraq was introduced to the world of cinema in the 1950s. While commercial movies dominated till the 1970s, the Ba’ath party’s ascension to power nationalised Iraqi cinema. During this time, movies became a mere propaganda tool. Independent movies produced at this time were less in number. The lack of funding and technology challenged their survival.
The Iran-Iraq war was a death knell to the country’s entertainment industry. Funding ceased to exist. In the years that followed, Iraq was in turmoil and looked forward to free itself from wars. Today, the situation in Iraq is different. There is more peace than conflicts in the country. And, Iraq hopes to see a revival of its once vibrant film industry.
Given Iraqis’ affinity towards arts and entertainment, the news of an Iraqi drama series airing this Ramadan season is good news. The Hotel is a 20-episode drama which was produced in Iraq after a gap of seven years. Mahmoud Abu Al-Abbas and Hassan Hosni, two of Iraq's leading actors, have returned, after several years of being away from the country to take part in The Hotel. The drama series revolves around the contemporary issues of human trafficking, prostitution, and organ theft that engulf Iraq. Hamid al-Maliki, the screenwriter of the drama, is of the opinion that transgressive themes in the series will warn the people against social evils.
Beginning of this decade saw a new wave of Iraqi cinema. Mohamed Al-Daradji and Yahya Al-Allaq and other independent Iraqi directors are the proponents of this new wave. In over 15 years, they were the first to produce films in Iraq. They were met with questions like “Are you filming it for CNN?” by the local Iraqis, who are only used to seeing international media covering war scenes in their country
Son of Babylon, released in 2010 was a huge step for Iraqi cinema. The movie is a candid representation of Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s fall. Shot entirely in Iraq, Son of Babylon was a feast to the Iraqi audience who had been deprived of the luxury of watching an indigenous movie for years. In an interview to The Guardian, Al-Daradji said, "We were not just making a film. I was making it for my family, for Iraq, for a nation which exists, but has not yet been discovered by the outside world. Which exists, arguably, only because we've filmed here."
Other notable movies produced after 2010 includes award winning Gift of my Father by Salam Salman which bagged the Crystal Bear award for the best short film and ‘War Cannister’ by Yahya al-Allaq. These directors do not shy away from talking about social injustice, war crimes or religious extremism in their movies. The works of the Iraqi directors are highly applaudable, for they make their movies with meagre funding and bare minimum technology.
Movies have the potential to become a vehicle for change in Iraq. Indigenously made movies and series will have a huge role in the revival of Iraqi culture. Be it Son of Babylon or The Hotel, they lay a foundation for the brighter future of Iraq’s entertainment field. Maybe, a few years down the line, Bagdad, which was once the hub of music, poetry and other art forms, will regain its former glory through Iraq’s resurrecting film and drama industries.