Iraq: Independent film and television college

Independent Film & Television College
The first four films were completed in Amman in December 2005, were shot between the end of 2004 and October 2005. Each opens a window onto the life of ordinary Iraqis in this extraordinary time.
The film students started more or less from scratch on the editing equipment and worked intensively and for long hours to complete their projects.
Baghdad Days (35 minutes) directed by Hiba Bassem, a young woman from Kirkuk. This is a diary of a year as Hiba tries to complete her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, looks for a place to live, graduates from college, searches for work and deals with all sorts of social and family problems. Her young cousin, for example, is badly injured in an explosion. She also talks about elections; she refuses to vote in January 2005, feeling it is pointless, but then later in the film speaks of her regret. By the time the referendum on the constitution rolls around in October, she is keen to be involved and sees it as a crucial event. The sense of hope she has and her awareness of the fragility of this hope is very moving.

Hiwar (12 minutes) is directed by another young woman, Kifaya Saleh. For years a group of Iraqi artists and writers had wanted to establish a cultural centre in Baghdad. After 8 years of war with Iran, the Gulf War of 1991 and the ongoing sanctions, it was clear that there was no point in waiting for peace. So the Hiwar arts centre was opened in an old house in 1992 and has now been re-built. The film details artists' efforts to keep producing in a climate of constant war, sanctions and finally the looting of libraries and museums that took place in March and April 2003.

Omar Is My Friend (15 minutes) directed by Mounaf Shaker is about a student at Baghdad University who drives a clapped out old taxi around Baghdad to support his wife and 4 daughters. As he manoeuvres around checkpoints, tanks and traffic jams, he ruminates about life and talks about his daily struggles - about work, about lack of petrol, electricity and security, about having daughters in a male-dominated society, about elections and politicians and about his unrealisable aspirations to become a documentary film-maker.

Let the Show Begin (15 mins) directed by Dhafir Taleb, This film documents a 5 day international short film festival held in Baghdad in extremely difficult circumstances in September 2005. The young organisers of the event are determined to do something constructive and to assert a sense of creativity in a situation where daily violence traumatises and paralyses people.


Work for the Students

Hiba Bassem and Mounaf Shaker, students on this course, were commissioned to shoot material to be included in a documentary film about the difficulty of reporting from Iraq, screened on Channel 4 in May.

The new Al Jazeera English-language channel, which is due to launch towards the end of 2006, has commissioned a short film about life in Baghdad, which will consist of 3 stories, each directed by a different student.

Film screenings


Al Jazeera will also be screening 3 of the student films soon after it goes on air.

Channel 4 (UK) commissioned us to produce 3-minute version of the films to be screened in their 3-minute wonders slot after the news. 3 of the films will be shown at 7.55pm on the 29, 30 and 31 of August. And hopefully, the fourth, 'Let the Show Begin' will be shown at a later date. Please watch them if you can.

Festivals & Awards

The films have been shown at: the Potenza Short Film Festival, Italy, Iraqi Documentary Film Festival and Portobello Film Festival, London, Al Jazeera International Film Festival, where Baghdad Days won the New Horizons Silver Award and Rotterdam Arab Film Festival where the same film won a Gold Award.

Other Screenings

The films were also shown in Washington DC at a packed screening organised by friends in January 2006 and in London at the Ritzy cinema by the DocHouse in May 2006.

  • A film about people internally displaced by sectarian violence and living in a refugee camp near Karbala. The lives of families and groups of individuals existing in this state of limbo will be followed over a period of time.
  • The portrait of a doctor, a general practitioner, working at a small hospital in the Zafaraniya area of Baghdad. He also runs a local clinic. For the moment, this doctor is determined to stay in Iraq, although, like so many other doctors his life has been threatened. The film will explore how this doctor is trying to provide care for his patients whose health is deteriorating because of a lack of clean water, electricity and food and because the health system is in a parlous state. He also has to deal with the physical and psychic injuries caused by the spiralling violence and the fragmenting of society. The student was only able to shoot for a day in the hospital before patients suspicious of the media and worried for their safety stopped him.
  • A film about the students on the present course. An exploration of their lives as they try to complete their projects, the film will give a sense of daily life in Baghdad and of how sometimes creative work can be a way of surviving and can embody a hope for the future.
  • A film about a Mandaen family who lives in the new Baghdad district. This is an area overrun with armed Shia militias. The family feels unsafe and has decided to leave the country for a year until, hopefully, things settle down. The film will tell the story of the family packing up and selling their things, renting their house, travelling to Syria and attempting to establish themselves there. Over the past months, there have been 10,000 Iraqis a day crossing the border into Syria to take refuge from the violence. With the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, this number has been augmented by 30,000 refugees a day fleeing from Lebanon into Syria. This means accommodation there is becoming scarce and much more expensive. The family may still decide they have no choice and go, but they may, in the event, not be able to afford it.
  • A film about the Shabandar Café in an old part of Baghdad. A family business, this café has been a place where people come to discuss literature and politics since the 1940s and encompasses much of the modern history of Iraq. In spite of the violence and risks they are exposed to, many of the clientele have continued coming on an everyday basis. Perhaps this is a kind of resistance.