Notes on the New

By Maysoon Pachachi


The Independent film and television college, Baghdad

The Independent Film & Television College is the first of its kind in Iraq. It was set up in Baghdad in 2004 and provides free-of-charge intensive short courses in film and television technique, theory and production. We train Iraqi filmmakers and also support their filmmaking by providing production facilities and information about funding and further training.

The First Completed Films

The first four films, 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.

Baghdad Days (35 minutes) was 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-kifaya-saleh.jpgHiwar, 2005

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 eight 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) is directed by Mounaf Shaker and about a student at Baghdad University who drives a clapped out old taxi around Baghdad to support his wife and four daughters. As he manoeuvres around checkpoints, tanks and traffic jams, he ruminates about life and talks about his daily struggles – about work, 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.

baghdad-days-hiba-bassem.jpgBaghdad Days, 2005

Let the Show Begin (15 mins) is directed by Dhafir Taleb. This film documents a five 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.

Current Student Documentary Projects

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.

A 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 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.

let-the-show-begin-dhafir-taleb.jpgLet the Show Begin, 2005

A film about a Mandaen family, living 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.

A film about the Shabandar Café in an old part of Baghdad. A family business, this café has been a place where people have 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.

There is not space here to describe the extraordinary conditions under which the College and its students have had to work (please see the website for more details). Sometimes, when we think about it, it seems crazy to try to do what we are doing. On the other hand, throughout Iraqi history, brutal invasions have come and gone, cities have been laid waste, have risen again, and fallen again – and always, artists have continued to work. Maybe this is the only way to survive or confront the violent un-making of the world.

For the moment we will try to carry on in whatever way we can and we want to thank all our supporters for their continuing assistance.


Maysoon Pachachi is an Iraqi film-maker based in London and co-director of the College.