Iraq Cinematography

By | December 19, 2021

The first Iraqi film screening dates back to 1909 and was carried out at a well-known café in central Baghdad. The event, which was attended by a large audience, achieved considerable success and prompted some local entrepreneurs and businessmen to organize more continuous, less occasional programming. However, another thirty years would have to pass for the affirmation of a real national cinema, witnessing the birth of the Iraqi state (1932), after more than a decade of British domination, and the subsequent dramatic developments in the country’s history. In 1911, the first cinema hall was inaugurated in Baghdad: however, the films screened were still of foreign production. In the following months, new rooms were opened and, starting from the 1920s, the screenings were reviewed by the local press. In particular, in 1927 the Baghdad National screened two documentaries, still of Western production: Manāẓir fī ᾽l-ḥafla alrabi῾iyya li᾽l-ǧayš al-῾Iraqī (Scenes from the Iraqi army’s spring festival) and Tadšīn ṭā ‘ irat madīnat Baġdād (Inauguration of the plane of the city of Baghdad). Cinema became a very profitable industry and attempts to create national cinematography multiplied during the 1930s. The films that inaugurated it, although still closely linked to Egypt, were Ibn al-šarq (1946, The Son of the East) by Egyptian Niazi Mustafa, produced by the Iraqi-Egyptian company al-Rašīd, and al-Qāhira-Baġdād (1947, Cairo-Baghdad) by Ahmed Badr Khan, also co-produced with Egypt; both were attended by Iraqi and Egyptian actors. In 1949, the first films produced entirely by Iraq were made: Aliya wa ῾Iṣām (Aliya and Isam), directed by French director André Chatan, and Layla fī ᾽l- ῾Iraq (Layla is in Iraq) by Egyptian Ahmed Kamil Mursi. Despite the success achieved, Iraqi cinematography did not know a real development, but rather went through a period of stasis which ended only in 1953 with the opening of the production company Dunya al-fann which in the same year made Fitna wa Ḥasan (Fitna and Hasan) by Haydar al-῾Omar, the first film in which exclusively Iraqi technicians and actors participated. Two other major films were shot between 1956 and 1957, both with a strong realistic streak: Abd al-Jabbar Wali’s Man al-mas῾ūl (1956, Who’s Responsible?), on the condition and role of women in Iraqi society, and Sa῾īd afandī (1957, Mr. Sa῾īd) by Kamiran Hasani, on the story of a teacher. The proclamation of the Republic and the euphoria for the new state (1958) greatly influenced the cinema which, with the introduction of celebratory themes of political reality, participated in its own way in the transformation of the country. Among the films that fit into this trend stand out: Irādat al-ša῾b (1959, The will of the people) by Burhan al-Din Jasim, Anā al-῾Iraq (1961, I am Iraq) by Muhammad al- Yasin and ῾Arūs al-Furāt (1961, The bride of the Euphrates) by ῾Abd al-Hadi Mubarak. Iraq was again the scene of political and institutional crises until 1968, when the Ba῾ṯ party took power in a coup. During this troubled period the the film industry encountered many difficulties that prevented full development, as evidenced by the small number of films made: Abu Hayla (1962), which marked the debut of one of Iraq’s greatest directors, Muhammad Shukri Jamil; · Gurfa raqam sab῾a (1964, The room number seven) by Kamiran Hasani and al-Ḥāris (1967, The guardian) by Khalil Shawqi, awarded at the 1968 Film Festival in Carthage. In the 1970s, cinematographic productivity, especially by private individuals, was severely limited and, starting in 1973, the film industry was transformed into a state monopoly. With a few rare exceptions, films were made, but mostly documentaries, almost exclusively of a propaganda nature. Strong interference by state bodies severely limited the freedom of Iraqi artists, by imposing on them celebratory works, such as al-Ayyām al-ṭawīla (1980, The long days) by the Egyptian Tawfiq Salih, on the life of Ṣaddām Ḥusayn, absolute dictator of the country since July 1979, and al-Qādisiyya (1981) of another Egyptian director, Salah Abu Sayf. The censorship was such that often the film, after the revision of the authorities, was completely different from the original version, as in the case of Buyūt fī ḏālika al-zuqāq (1977, Houses in that alley) by Qasim Awal in which, following the interventions carried out, the role of the Ba῾ṯ party is at the fore. The number of works focused on themes related to revolution, political and social commitment, such as al-Nahr (1977, The River) by Faysal al-Yaseri and al-῾Āšiq (1986, L’amante) by Mohammed Mounir, multiplied. Fanari. The independent voice was instead that of the filmmaker Muhammad Shukri Jamil who, despite the pressures of censorship, did not alter his stylistic code: al-Ẓāmi’ūn (1972, Gli thirstati), set in a small village of Iraq southern Italy, effectively portrays the dramatic struggle of man against the adversities of nature, in particular drought; al-Aswār (1979, Le mura), based on the story of the writer ῾Abd al-Rahmān al-Ruba῾ī, set in the 1950s, follows the stories of three schoolmates and their different reactions to subsequent political events; al-Mas’ala al-kubra (1983, The Great Question) is instead a sort of historical chronicle of the struggle that in the 1920s finally led the country to obtain independence from Great Britain. For Iraq 1996, please check

The tragedy of the war against Iran and the drama of the population are relived in al-Ḥudūd al-multahiba (1986, The Flaming Borders) by Sahib Haddad. In 1982 it was made by Faysal al-Yasiri al-Amīra wa᾽l-nahr (The Princess and the River) who, despite some evident schematizations and certain stereotypes, stands out for the strength of his political metaphor through an interesting use of scenography and iconography. In subsequent films, while themes continue to be treated in which the glorious past becomes an occasion for celebration aimed at regaining the lost Iraqi identity, more intimate stories appear, as in Ḥubb fī Baġdād (1986, Love in Baghdad) by Abdel Hadi al- Rawi, in which the confrontation between the urban and rural worlds is relived as a personal and existential drama. Since the nineties due to the difficult conditions of the country, oppressed by the dictatorship of Ṣaddām Ḥusayn, isolated due to the embargo and severely affected by the consequences of the wars of 1991 and 2002, film production has almost completely stopped.

Iraq 1996