Weekly Feature

Manish Swarup/AP

Iraq on Film

July 22, 2008
by Liz Colville
A series of films with Iraq at their core has brought the ordinary life, war, Islam and Iraqi culture to the Western world. Spotlighted at film festivals like Tribeca in New York City and Sundance in Park City, Utah, the films, often documentaries, don’t usually make it to mainstream movie houses. But the Web and word of mouth are helping the stories reach a wider audience. Here we focus on three movies made in the midst of the Iraq war.

“Dreams of Sparrows”

The production of “Dreams of Sparrows” was as dramatic as its story; in fact, it seeped into the film’s painful finale when associate producer Saad Fakher was killed during the making of the film, allegedly by U.S. troops. The documentary gathers various conflicting opinions about the current crisis in Iraq by traveling to the country’s cultural hubs, including the Socialist party headquarters, homes and a mental institution: “Some Iraqis place photos of President Bush in shrines; others can barely contain their contempt for the American forces,” writes Wired.
The Web site of Harbinger Media, the production company behind “Sparrows,” hosts several links, including two CNN segments spotlighting the film and multiple links to reviews of the film in the media.
Watch a documentary excerpt about the invasion of Fallujah on IraqEyetv, the YouTube page of Iraq Eye, the media collective who made the film.

Aaron Raskin, a coproducer of “Sparrows,” uses the movie and his other work to help revive and improve filmmaking in Iraq. Other organizations, including a college devoted to the craft, are doing the same. NPR recently profiled Maysoon Pachachi, who works at the Independent Film & Television College in Baghdad. In an interview on NPR’s “Weekend Edition Saturday,” Pachachi talks about some of the documentaries students have made there.

“Baghdad High”

This documentary about life at a Baghdad high school was produced by HBO and debuted at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Broadcast on HBO and the BBC (as “The Boys from Baghdad High”), the film features footage shot by the film’s four subjects, who are each from different backgrounds: Sunni, Shia, Christian and a mix of Sunni and Shia. The film blog Cinematical noted that the film “does offer some colorful insights into what these kids go through every day,” though it could have focused more on “how young Iraqis really feel about America.”

The trailer of “Baghdad High” is available on HBO’s site.

“Heavy Metal in Baghdad”

2008’s “Heavy Metal in Baghdad” is the story of one band’s expressive path to fame using a genre of music surprisingly fitting for a war-torn country. Acrassicauda formed during the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Discovered in the west by the often controversial Vice Magazine, the band became the subject of a documentary produced by Vice Films. An example of the “unspoken hope of an entire generation of Iraqis,” Acrassicauda suffered a tumultuous ride from 2003 to 2006 as they attempted to stay together during a debilitating insurgency that inevitably forced them to flee to Turkey.
The Los Angeles Times called the film a “mad, Hunter S. Thompson adventure” that pits its two creators against the fate of a group of men that prevents anybody from staying put for long.
Watch a trailer for “Heavy Metal in Baghdad” on the film’s official site, and hear segments of Acrassicauda’s music and story.

Iraq and Hollywood

Most moviegoers are aware that, far from being obscured, the subject of Iraq has been center stage in many recent Hollywood movies. Last year, Richard Corliss of Time magazine counted “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Redacted,”  “In the Valley of Elah,” “The Kingdom,” “Rendition” and “Lions for Lambs” among the Iraq-themed films that have premiered in the past year. But Corliss notes that audiences have been largely uninterested in these pictures. It’s hard to make a feel-good movie about Iraq, he suggests, though MTV Films’ “Stop-Loss,” which he leaves off the list, came very close earlier this year, and appealed to the generation of American who is either in Iraq or Afghanistan, or knows someone who is.
Watch a trailer of “Stop-Loss,” which stars Ryan Philippe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Channing Tatum, via YouTube.


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