City without Cinemas to host British Film Festival in Iraq
by Liza Foreman
15/11/2011 - A number of film initiatives have taken place in Iraq since the invasion began. But now Erbil, one of the country's largest cities, which is also thought to be the longest continually inhabited city on earth, is to play host to the region’s first British Film Festival, which will focus on films from this long-isolated Kurdistan region and features from Great Britain.
Running from November 26-28, the Kurdistan British Film Festival will be launched in partnership with representatives from the British film industry and with the help of the U.K.’s National Film and Television School (NFTS), which will oversee a series of workshops for young Kurdish filmmakers. “By bringing new British films to Erbil, the festival will inspire local creativity and help to develop the nascent local filmmaking community,” the organizers said in a statement.
Chris Bowers, British consul-general in Erbil, and co-founder Phil Hunt, of London-based Bankside Films, say they have launched the Kurdistan British Film Festival to “forge closer links with the country and reinforce the existing ties Britain has with Kurdistan since the first Gulf War in 1991.”
“It’s an extraordinary and exciting relationship that is being built here between our industry and the people of Kurdistan,” said Hunt. “We hope that the films we are screening will inspire and entertain in a way that will encourage local filmmakers and artists to engage with cinema and show us their own stories. The country has changed so dramatically over the last two decades. It’s time that those stories were brought to the screen.”
“The Kurdish people are emerging from a period of isolation. They have forged strong ties with the U.K. and we are having some very good success in business and education links,” said Bowers. “We want Erbil to be seen as the type of place that can host a film festival: we want to put the Kurdistan Region on the map.”
A number of films showing at the festival feature strong female rolemodels (The Queen [trailer, film focus], Pride and Prejudice [trailer], Made in Dagenham [trailer]), while others tackle social stereotypes (Billy Elliot) or discuss the Holocaust (The Boy in Striped Pyjamas [trailer]). “The Kurdistan Region is on a dash for modernity and that comes through in the type of films that people want to see here in Erbil,” added Bowers.
Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s U.K. representative, who is also involved in the festival, explained how Erbil and other Kurdish cities once had many theatres. “The cinemas were shut down at times of war and eventually fell into disuse. The new generation is hungry to see good films and to have a cinema-going experience,” he said. “This festival will not only bring some of the best British films to them, but also the wonderful skills of the NFTS and the thrill of seeing films on the big screen.”
After decades without a functioning cinema, Erbil will soon see the opening of at least two large cinema complexes at the city’s two newest shopping centres - Family Malls and Majidi Mall.