Established in 2004, Iraq’s first Independent Film and Television College has produced 13 short documentary films by young Iraqi directors that turned a lot of heads at international festivals. However, with the growing insecurity in Iraq, the school’s future looks bleak.
If just taking a camera out on the street, or even shooting from the back of a car could get you killed or stopped by armed militia, the police or the National Guard, would you consider making a film? If you were a student at the Independent Film and Television College (IFTVC) in Baghdad you would. In fact it’s this violence and sectarianism that drove London based Iraqi filmmakers Kasim Abid and Maysoon Pachachi to establish the college at first place.
“We felt that film and television could be powerful tools in the reconstruction and renewal of a shattered society. They could provide a way for a society to look at itself, to question its history and to consider its future. And they also provide a way for one section of society to talk to another,” Pachachi says. “We want to try to help young people, in particular, to unlock their creative potential and to provide them with a basic training to enable them to put their thoughts and stories on the screen.”
Established in 2004, IFTVC has become the first and only private film and television college in Iraq to date. The college organizes special intensive courses in camera, sound, and lighting as well as documentary film courses all free of charge.
During the Saddam regime, there was very limited cinema production. The severe sanctions imposed on Iraq for over 13 years meant was no film stock, labs, and certainly no digital technology. Almost no practical film training had been possible,” Pachachi says.
While before the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iraqi documentaries were few and far between, the bloody events of the recent years, coupled with a growth in film stock and digital technology available to Iraqis, kicked more of the country’s filmmakers into action. Flocks of young Iraqis enrolled in the courses of the newly-opened college, producing 13 short documentary films so far and drawing attention in various international festivals.
One such film is Hiba Bassem’s Baghdad days (2005). The 35min documentary about Bassem’s struggles to come to terms with her position as a woman on her own in Baghdad received the New Horizon silver award at the al-Jazeera International Film Festival in Doha (2006) and the golden award at the Rotterdam Arab Film Festival (2006). Other films by IFTVC students have recently been screened at IDFA in Amsterdam and Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival, New York University, Columbia University and Goldsmith’s College among others.
Not without Difficulty
While IFTVC organizes two 4-month-documentary courses a year, keeping to the schedule wasn’t always easy. “They (the students) often research their projects and once they’ve set everything up, done their camera training and are ready to shoot, they often find that the security situation has suddenly changed and they are now unable to shoot the film they wanted to shoot and have to start all over again,” Pachachi says.
Furthermore, students suffered attempted abduction, saw their houses destroyed by mortar attacks, and their family members kidnapped or violently killed. One student even got shot while shooting his film. This growing insecurity in addition to the rise in the number of nearby explosions, one of which shattered every pane of glass in the college, forced it to close several times. Nevertheless, according Pachachi, IFTVC never cancelled a course. “All this, obviously, has forced us to work in a stop-start manner. And we have been able to carry on by remaining patient and flexible, working in a low-profile manner and being prepared to improvise,” she says. “It was either this or abandoning our project and we were not willing to do this.”
The continuous delays meant that courses took twice as long, putting economic strain on IFTVC as it is funded by charity, foundation grants and private donations. Furthermore, while the college used to advertise for students and publish announcements in the newspapers in 2004, since the emergence of extremist groups that regard cinema sinful, it’s no longer safe to do so. “Until there is a serious improvement in the security situation, we will be finding students by contacting colleges and arts centers and by word-of-mouth,” Pachachi says. As a result, only 18 students attended IFTVC’s most recent course, a far cry from the average 25 students who used to apply.
In spite of all difficulties, Pachachi and Abid remain optimistic. “It is difficult to predict how anything in Iraq will develop at the moment, but we are hoping to be able to carry on and to expand our teaching, to offer more courses, expose them (the students) to a wider number of teachers, and support their filmmaking activities,” she says.
This article was published in Tafaseel periodical e-magazine specialized in documentary films. Tafaseel is a publication of Proaction Film company.