Dubai: After Saddam
Hussein's long, oppressive rule and the subsequent US invasion of
Iraq in 2003 that ended only last year, Iraqi and Kurdish
filmmakers seem to be in a hurry to make films -- on poison gas
attacks on Kurdish villages, mass graves, Iraqi bloggers and even
"Halabja - The Lost Children" begins with a young man, Ali,
visiting the cemetery. He stands in front of a gravestone and
says: "Until two months ago, this was my grave."
The documentary by Kurdish Syrian filmmaker Akram Hidou highlights
the agony of people after Saddam's poison gas attack in 1988 on
Halabja, the Kurdish city near the border with Iran. Nearly 5,000
people lost their lives, while hundreds of children went missing.
Twenty-one years after the attack, Ali returns looking for his
lost family. And five families in the Kurdish city hope against
hope that Ali is their missing child.
"When I met Ali, I thought no one will be better than him and his
family to tell the story," Hidou said in Arabic about his film,
which fetched him the Best Director's award in the Official Gulf
Feature Competition of the Fifth Gulf Film Festival this week.
The film goes into the homes of people who have lost entire
families. "Before March 16, 1988, Halabja was a city of poets but
after that bodies lay strewn in front of every house," a man who
lost all his children says in the film.
Iraq's film history began in the 1940s, filmmaker Ja'afar Abd Al-Hamid
told IANS in an interview. But he adds it's obviously not been a
"It has made may be 100 films in 40 years, something India might
produce in a month," says Ja'afar, whose film "Mesocafe" was
screened at the Gulf Film Festival.
"There was a healthy movie-going culture...but political
interference made it difficult. Also, with the international
sanctions, Iraq wasn't allowed to import film stock. This just
killed the industry. Now I think there is just one cinema hall in
Baghdad," explains the director, who calls himself a Satyajit Ray
"Now there is a revival," he adds.
Ja'afar's "Mesocafe" revolves around Yusuf, an underground Iraqi
blogger who travels to London to highlight the consequences of UN
sanctions on Iraq. And in London, the film focusses on the Iraqi
"My film captures how for expats, Iraq is a place in their
memories...it highlights the disconnect between the diaspora and
people in Iraq," Ja'afer, who hasn't gone back to Iraq in 26
years, told IANS.
Another horror tale from Iraq is about the Anfal genocide campaign
where 182,000 Kurds were buried in mass graves by commanders of
Saddam's Baath Party. But "I Am A White Mercenary" by Taha Karimi
tells the story through the eyes of Saeid Jaf, a mercenary
commander on trial for war crimes. He is hailed as the Oscar
Schindler of Kurds for saving hundreds by preventing their arrest
Jaf collects testimonies of people he saved. And one by one they
say they "are ready to defend Saeid Jaf".
Yet another Iraqi documentary is "In My Mother's Arms" about the
orphans of Iraq's war and one man's struggle to run a private
orphanage comprising 32 children scarred by the violence around
Iraq has seen phases of never-ending violence and filmmakers like
Karimi believe this has become a part of any story they want to
tell. "Iraqi people are very tired and injured, they want peace
now," Karimi told reporters.
Adds Ja'afer: "It is going to be hard for Iraqi filmmakers to get
out from this cloud of chaos...The next generation of filmmakers
might focus on other aspects."
But there are already stories of love on celluloid like "Red
Heart" by Kurdish filmmaker Halkawt Mustafa. It's a stirring drama
about two teenagers who fight to be together in a land where
choosing one's spouse is an unknown freedom.
More than anything else, the director is overjoyed that 18 films,
including short ones, from Iraq were screened at the festival.
"I'm very happy...for me, it is first time to see many Iraqi
movies," Mustafa says.
(Malavika Vettath can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)