Under Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraq's film industry collapsed due to lack of funding and filmmakers. Now, a German - Iraqi initiative hopes to help revive the war-torn country's cinematic tradition.
Iraqis are keen movie-goers
The Filmclub Berlin-Baghdad was created out of the desire of its founders, Marie Steinmann and Klaas Glenewinkel, to remind the world there's more to Iraq than war, occupation, bombs and torture. Through the club, they plan to establish a film library and educational center in Baghdad, which will serve as inspiration for Iraqi film enthusiasts.
European films are practically unknown in Iraq, despite widespread interest in cinema. The first movie theater was opened before 1920 by the British occupiers. In the 1940s, Iraqis began making their own films, telling mostly romantic, pastoral stories.
But after the Baath party came to power in 1968, the state clamped down on creativity, only showing films that fit the regime's message. Political and historical epics became standard fare.
Then under United Nations sanctions, the Iraqi film industry collapsed completely due to lack of funding and filmmakers. The task of carrying on Iraq's film tradition fell to those living in exile.
Comeback for Iraqi cinema?
The first film to be shot in post-war Iraq was director Oday Rahseed's "Under Exposure," a film that examines Baghdad in the immediate aftermath of the US led war to oust Saddam Hussein.
"I wanted to look at what it means to face death," Rasheed said. "Maybe it could be about any war, but it's about the experience of Iraq and especially Baghdad."
Director Tom Tykwer
Rasheed joined award-winning German director Tom Tykwer (photo), a sponsor of the Filmclub Berlin-Baghdad, at the club's first major event on Thursday -- a discussion about the situation facing cinema and filmmakers in Iraq.
Proceeds from the evening's €28 ($35) entrance fee will be used to buy film projectors and other equipment for Iraq's cinemas. In addition, guests were instructed to bring a film on DVD, which was deemed an important contribution to Baghdad's new archive of western and European cinema.
Catching up on film history
On the Filmclub's wish-list of donations: films by Stanley Kubrick, Jean-Luc Godard, Federico Fellini, Josef Von Sternberg, Lars von Trier´, Ingmar Bergman, and others.
"It's a great opportunity to encourage a cultural exchange between two countries which, until now, have been unable to learn about each other's respective cinematic traditions," Tykwer said.
For Rasheed, the Filmclub Berlin-Baghdad fulfiled a long-time goal of establishing such an exchange. But he warned that freedom of expression in Iraqi cinema still faced a different post-war threat.
"Until recently, it was simply impossible to present independent world cinema in Iraq," Rasheed said. "Every single film was checked by Saddam's officials, and in most cases, confiscated. Although that's over now, we're being confronted with another form of censorship -- pressure from fundamentalist Islamic groups."