IFTVC has re-opened in Baghdad and a new documentary course is under way.
By the early part of 2007, the security situation in Baghdad had deteriorated to such an extent, that we were forced to temporarily shut down the school, and complete our films in Damascus. Bit by bit, though, it looked like things were beginning to calm down and we returned to Baghdad at the beginning of 2009. We had to mend all our camera equipment and computers, replace shattered windows and clean out our teaching rooms, which had been occupied by pigeons for a year. We gathered a new group of students together and started our next documentary course in March. The students began their technical training and are researching and formulating their ideas for a new group of documentary films, which we are hoping they will be able to complete in the autumn.
Our students’ films continued to be shown throughout 2008: at the Arab Film Festival in San Francisco, the Casa Arabe in Madrid, as part of the 'Red Zone, Green Zone' exhibition at Gemak museum in the Hague, and at the British Museum in London as part of its ‘Babylon Late’ event, in February 2009.
In December 2008, our students’ films participated in the Dubai International Film Festival Market and we took part in a panel about film education at the festival.
Some of our former students have gone on to make films. Recently, Mounaf Shaker from our first documentary course in 2005, won a prize at the Gulf Film Festival 2009, for his documentary film, Red Zone Citizens.
Upcoming screenings: Hiba Basssem’s film from our first documentary course Baghdad Days will be shown at the Robert Flaherty Seminar in New York in June 2009.
All of our students’ films were shown at the House of World Cultures in Berlin as part of the DI/VISIONS Culture and Politics of the Middle East events in January.
In March and April, Kasim and Maysoon travelled to the US to show our students’ films and to promote the work of the college in California, New York and Washington DC.
We were invited to the US by Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, California as part of their Iraq Re-frame programme. We showed several students’ films and took part in a panel discussion co-sponsored by Stanford University.
In New York, we held 4 screening and discussion sessions at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, the Open Society Institute, Columbia University and the Pomegranate Gallery. We spoke to the film department at NYU and have established a relationship of support and mentoring with them, They are providing us with course books, the loan of a video training camera and are hoping to provide one of our students with the opportunity to study an intensive course at the university in the summer.
In Washington DC, we held a screening and discussion at Busboys and Poets a cafe and cultural centre. We also had a meeting at the Kennedy Cultural Centre about the possibility of showing our students’ films next year as part of an Arab festival of the arts. While in the US, we were asked to do 3 radio interviews and press publication. If you are interested, the links to the New York and Washington shows are below.
In February, Hiba Bassem's film Baghdad Days was shown as part of the Tangiers to Tehran: Women Filmmakers in the Middle East Festival in London. The festival was sponsored by the French Institute. In April it was also shown in Morocco as part of the Week of Documentary organised by the French Institute of Fez.
In April, 6 of our students’ films were shown in competition in Dubai as part of the Gulf Film Festival. The festival invited the directors of the films to attend. IFTVC students won prizes at the festival: in the students' competition, Bahram Al Zuhairi has won the first prize with his film Leaving and Emad Ali has been awarded third prize.
Ahmed Jabbar's film, Dr Nabil, was shown at the London International Documentary Festival in April.
Emad Ali's film, A Candle for the Shabandar Cafe, will be shown at the Houston Palestinian Film Festival in May.
Also in May, student films will be shown at a special screening and discussion in Vienna.
In July the IPRA Short Film Festival in Leuven, Belgium, will show Hassanain al Hani's film, A Stranger In His Own Country.
Two films by our students, A Candle for the Shabandar Cafe and A Stranger In His Own Country, are shown in July as part of the Arab Film Festival at BAFTA in London and at FACT in Liverpool.
We are happy that after all our students, and our own hard work, our films are reaching a wider international audience. We are also very grateful to those who have supported us throughout the first 4 years of our project and to those new friends who are now offering their support.
Students’ films at festivals Since the beginning of 2007, our students’ films have been shown at various international film festivals, including the UN Association Film Festival, London, Augsburg Film Festival, Germany, Women’s Film Festival, Seoul, South Korea, Iraqi Film Festival, Den Haag, Netherlands, International Festival of Human Rights, Geneva, Oxdox Documentary International Film Festival, Oxford UK and the Arab Film Festival, San Francisco.
Current student films and re-locating Over the last few months of 2006, it really became clear that we could no longer operate in Baghdad. There were explosions near the school, which blew out every pane of glass in our building, and a mortar attack across the street, which killed the father of an ex-student. And with increasing roadblocks, closures and curfews, it became virtually impossible for students to even get in to the college for classes. They have, however, managed to complete shooting their documentary projects and these are currently being edited in Damascus. We will have to re-locate temporarily, at least for the next course/workshop, and are hoping to do this in Damascus.
Emad’s story In January, Emad’s house was hit in a mortar attack. It was 11pm and the family were asleep in their beds; Emad’s wife and father were killed and he himself, suffered burns to his hands and face, and spent 2 weeks in hospital.
Slowly he got back to working on his film about the Shabandar Cafe, a meeting place for poets, writers and artists since the 1920s and the only literary cafe left in Baghdad. It was in Mutanabi Street, always crowded with people coming to buy books either from the many bookshops or from pavement sellers. In early March, there was a massive explosion there, which demolished the Shabandar and much of the street – dealing a death-blow to the cultural life and identity of the city. Emad went to film on several occasions – interviewing the owner of the cafe who lost his sons in the explosion and documenting the wake held for the street by the poets and artists of the city.
The last time, he was walking to get a taxi after filming when he was attacked by 2 armed men, who grabbed the small camera he was using and attempted to abduct him. Emad saw an opportunity to escape and made a run for it. He got about 4 metres away before he was shot in the leg and fell to the ground. The men walked up to him, shot him in the chest and drove away leaving him for dead. Luckily, the chest wound was just a surface one, but his leg was seriously damaged. Emad lay on the pavement for 20 minutes bleeding – no one went to help him; they were too frightened. Finally a woman passer-by stopped a car and took him to hospital. He stayed there for some weeks while doctors tried to patch up his leg by grafting bone from other parts of his body. He is now home, not yet able to walk even on crutches. A doctor goes to see him every other day and we are helping to pay for these expenses. The medical services in Iraq have deteriorated vastly since the invasion and they were in a parlous state after 13 years of sanctions anyway.
2008 update: Emad has now had a successful operation on his leg, free-of-charge in Dubai. This was arranged by Abdel Hamid Jum’a, director of the Gulf and Dubai Film Festivals, and we are very grateful for his help.