Baghdad, Nov. 7 (Reuters): An Iraqi soldier, blood oozing from a wound to his stomach, clambers over the smouldering ruins of a bombed-out building in Baghdad and collapses in a heap, agony etched on his war-weary face.
“Cut,” shouts Oday Rasheed, and so ends the first take of the first film to be shot in post-war Iraq.
Using their own limited funds and with the actors working for free, Rasheed and his crew are shooting Ghayr Saleh (Under Exposure), a movie examining Baghdad in the immediate aftermath of the US-led war to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
“I wanted to look at what it means to face death,” Rasheed, a 30-year-old first-time director, said on the set today.
“Maybe it could be about any war, but it’s about the experiences of Iraq and especially Baghdad.”
Rasheed’s film is not only the first to be made since Saddam was overthrown in April, it is one of very few to have been made in Iraq since 1991, when the United Nations imposed an embargo on the country after the first Gulf War.
The blockade made it virtually impossible to get hold of film and other equipment and so the industry fell into ruin.
Before then, Iraq had quite an active movie industry — the capital even boasts the Baghdad Film Studios — although directors were expec- ted to be sympathetic to Sad- dam and avoid politics or other sensitive topics.
“The only difference between making films now and making them before is that now there is no taboo, whether it’s politics, religion or sex, we can do it,” said Rasheed, who cites Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Quentin Tarantino as his influences.
As the director and his cameraman are setting up the opening shot, on location in the heart of old Baghdad around the corner from a famed cafe where writers and intellectuals still sit and chat, a terrific boom shakes the air.
The explosion, which feels like it happened just around the corner, is a stark reminder of the dangers of trying to do anything — including make a film — on the streets of Baghdad, where US troops clash daily with Iraqi insurgents.
But it also turns Rasheed’s mind to his biggest fear besides survival — that the longer the fighting goes on, the greater the likelihood arts and culture in Iraq will be pushed closer towards extinction.
After nearly three decades of suffering under Saddam’s rule, the pool of writers, cinematographers and other artists in the country has dwindled to a mere puddle, he says.
“I’m so worried about the arts in Iraq right now. There is too much old-fashioned thinking going on and no one realises how desperate the situation is,” he says, pushing his long black hair back over his head.
“As we try to rebuild the country physically, we also need to rebuild Iraq’s artistic heritage.”