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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Young Iraqi film students tell their own stories from Mosul

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Mosul (Iraq) (AFP) – A budding Iraqi film director screams “Action!” As an actress climbing over the rubble in the old city of Mosul, she is proud of the students of an emerging film school in the former jihadist stronghold.

Mosul still bears the scars of the brutal rule of the Islamic State, which overran the northern Iraqi city in 2014 and imposed its ultra-conservative interpretation of Islamic law.

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They destroyed everything from ancient churches to musical instruments, before being defeated in a devastating battle in 2017.

Now, with a collaboration between the Mosul Academy of Fine Arts, a Belgian theater company and the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, 19 students are getting the chance to produce their first short films.

“We live in Mosul and we know everything that happened,” said theater student Mohammed Fawaz, 20. “We want to show all of that to the world through cinema.”

Over the course of a four-month course, students get a taste of everything from writing and photography to acting and editing, according to Milo Rau, artistic director of the Belgian theater company NTGent who is behind the initiative.

During a four-month course, students get a taste of everything from writing and photography to acting and editing Zaid AL-OBEIDI AFP

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Cameras and microphones at hand, students now take to the streets of Mosul to tell stories from their wounded city.

“Stone Age to Modernity”

An actress dressed as a bride searches for her husband only to discover that he has stepped on a land mine.

Children and other residents gather around the place curiously, while a neighbor refuses to turn off the annoying generator.

Students prepare an outdoor shot in front of a destroyed building in Mosul
Students prepare an outdoor shot in front of a destroyed building in Mosul Zaid AL-OBEIDI AFP

One teacher reminds the students, as the December sun sets: “We lose the light.”

Student Fawaz said that studying at the Academy of Fine Arts after the defeat of ISIS is a bit like “the transition from the Stone Age to modernity.”

A fan of blockbuster films such as the Marvel series and Fast and Furious, Fawaz spent many of his teenage years at home without television or education under the control of extremists, learning English through books and thanks to a neighbour.

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Fawaz said that he and some of his colleagues had already decided “to shoot films about Mosul and its war.”

After an intense month-long session in October, the students were trying out different roles as they worked together to produce their films, Belgian coach, photographer and director Daniel Demoustier said.

He said that all equipment such as lenses and sound equipment brought in from abroad will remain with the aim of “students picking it up again and starting to make their own films.”

Even if only three or four did it, he said, “it would be a huge success.”

longing for childhood

Tamara Jamal, 19, said the course was her “first experience” with cinema.

Her short film tells the story of a girl whose father beats her mother, while others investigate issues including early marriage.

“Most students prefer to talk about stories in which children play the main role,” said Susanna Abdul Majeed, an Iraqi-German actress and teacher whose family hails from Mosul.

Young people in the city, she said, “have gone through a lot of difficult and horrific things…There is a kind of longing for childhood, as well as for a time of innocence.”

The students were trying out different roles while working together on their films
The students were trying out different roles while working together on their films Zaid AL-OBEIDI AFP

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Rao said the nine students’ works, each up to five minutes long, will be shown in Mosul in February before being shown at European festivals.

His film, Orestes in Mosul, based on the ancient Greek tragedy of Aeschylus, was produced in 2018-2019 with the participation of local students.

The goal now, he said, was to secure funding for the film division’s continued operation.

The next step will be to “hold a small film festival in Mosul … to continue what we started.”

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