ⓘ Cinema of Iraq


ⓘ Cinema of Iraq

The cinema of Iraq went through a downturn under Saddam Husseins regime. The development of film and film-going in Iraq reflects the drastic historical shifts that Iraq has experienced in the 20th century. The Iraq War which began in 2003 had an influence on many films being produced.


1. History

While Iraqs first film projection took place in 1909, cinema was not truly regarded as a cultural activity or pastime until the 1920s. The first cinemas, like the famous al-Zawra cinema on Baghdads bustling thoroughfare al-Rashid, played mostly American silent films for British citizens.

In the 1940s under the rule of King Faisal II of Iraq, a real Iraqi cinema began. Supported by British and French financiers, movie production companies established themselves in Baghdad. The Baghdad Studio was established in 1948, but soon came apart when tensions between the Arab and Jewish founders flared up. For the most part, the product was purely commercial, fluffy romances with plenty of singing and dancing often set in small villages. The World of Arts Dunyat Alfann studio, which was founded by actors, reached for more serious fare. In 1955, they produced Haidar Al-Omars Fitna wa Hassan, an Iraqi retelling of Romeo and Juliet, that received international attention. But for the most part, the strong-fist rule of the state discouraged any socially relevant films.

In 1959 when King Faisel IIs government was overthrown, the Cinema and Theater General organization came into existence with the purpose of promoting the political goals of the new regime both in documentaries and features. Typical were documentaries like the 1969 Al Maghishi Project, which showcased the governments irrigation campaigns and the 1967 A Wedding in Heaven, which celebrates the air force and their weapons system. The 1968 revolution that put the Baath party in power further solidified the governments control of film material, and the states need to make all films validate its power.

Saddam Husseins ascension to power in 1979 pushed the Iraqi cinema in a slightly different direction. The drain on national resources from the 1980 Iran–Iraq War brought film production to a near halt. The few films put into production were mainly intent on glorifying a mythic Iraqi history or celebrating Husseins rule. In 1981, the government commissioned Egyptian filmmaker Salah Abouseif to make Al-Qadisiya, a period epic recounting the triumph of the Arabs over the Persians in 636 AD. Likewise Mohamed Shukri Jameels melodramatic The Great Question al-Mas Ala Al-Kubra cast British actor Oliver Reed as the vicious Lt-Col Gerard Leachman who is righteously killed in the 1920 Iraqi revolution.

In 1980 Hussein promoted his own mythology with the autobiographical 6-hour epic The Long Days al-Ayyam al-tawila, the saga of Husseins participation in the 1958 failed assassination attempt on Prime Minister Abd al-Karim Qasim, and his subsequent heroic escape back to Tikrit. The film was edited and partially directed by Terence Young, the British director who made his name helming the early James Bond films Dr. No and Thunderball film. Hussein is played by Saddam Kamel, a cousin and son-in-law of Husseins, who eventually ran afoul of the leader and was murdered in 1996.

After Iraq started attacks against Kuwait, Iraq sanctions made filmmaking an impossibility in the country, although a new generation of filmmakers is coming alive in Baghdad.


2. Actors

  • Heather Raffo Iraqi-American born in Michigan, Award winning playwright/actress most known for her role in 9 Parts of Desire
  • Don Hany, 1975–, Won Best Actor for Winning the Peace 2005 and known for his role as Theo Rahme in White Collar Blue
  • Lewis Alsamari, 1976–, starred in the Universal Pictures film United 93
  • Shero Rauf
  • Charlotte Lewis, most notable for her lead female role in The Golden Child alongside Eddie Murphy
  • Ibraham Alzubaidy, 1978–, starred in the California State University, Northridge screenwriting
  • Zina Zaflow
  • Yasmine Hanani, featured in documentary films Voices of Iraq, My Country, My Country and Battle for Haditha film
  • Basam Ridha

3. Film directors

Ibraham Alzubaidy, 1978–, starred in the California State University, Northridge screenwriting and film

  • Baz Shamoun, film director and maker of short documentary Where is Iraq?
  • Rashed Radwan
  • Anisa Mehdi, Emmy Award–winning film director, journalist and director of Inside Mecca
  • Amer Alwan, known for winning an award for Zaman, The Man From The Reeds
  • Mohamed Al-Daradji, director of Ahlaam and Son of Babylon
  • Shero Rauf
  • Oday Rasheed, director and writer, Underexposure and Qarantina
  • Najeen
  • Usama Alshaibi, director of Muhammad and Jane and Nice Bombs
  • Abbas Fahdel, director of Dawn of the World
  • Zana Briski, director of Born into Brothels
  • Ishtar Yasin Gutierrez
  • Saad Salman, film director known for his documentary Baghdad On/Off
  • Maysoon Pachachi, director of Return to the Land of Wonders

4. Films shot in Iraq

  • Gunner Palace 2005
  • Underexposure 2005 - A docufiction, the first feature film after the American occupation began in 2003
  • My Country, My Country 2006
  • We Iraqis 2004 - A documentary film shot in Baghdad, Hilla and Hīt
  • Back to Babylon film 2002 - A documentary film shot in Babylon, Hilla, Baghdad and Hīt
  • Ahlaam 2004 - A feature film by Mohamed Al Daradji.
  • The War Tapes 2003
  • Iraq in Fragments 2006 - Documentary film on the Iraq War.
  • Nice Bombs 2006 a documentary by Usama Alshaibi was shot in Baghdad in early 2004.
  • ZAMAN, The Man Who Lives in the Reeds 2003 - A feature film by Amer Alwan
  • Voices of Iraq 2004
  • Searching for Hassan 2007 Mosul - A documentary film by Edouard Beau
  • Valley of the Wolves Iraq 2006 - The movie is set in northern Iraq during the Occupation of Iraq.
  • About Baghdad 2003 - A documentary film shot in Baghdad.
  • The Exorcist 1973 - Hatra was used as the setting for the opening scene.