Art of film comes alive in basement of Iraq aficionado

Abdel Qader Al-Ayoubi has scoured Iraq for old films and archive materials. (AFP)
Updated 04 August 2018
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Art of film comes alive in basement of Iraq aficionado

  • The cinema experience in the country is now restricted to multi-screen theaters in the shopping malls of Baghdad and the main southern city of Basra
  • Foreign films are also on the program, such as the Spaghetti Westerns whose posters plaster the walls of his small museum that is open to the public on weekends and public holidays

KIRKUK: From black-and-white musicals to action movies, Abdel Qader Al-Ayoubi screens films and exhibits paraphernalia of the art form in his basement in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, a cinema-free zone.
Ayoubi has scoured the country to collect 8 mm, 16 mm and 35-mm reels of old films, projectors, screens and archive materials from second-hand dealers, sometimes at exorbitant prices.
In the 1970s, the city of Kirkuk was home to five cinemas: The Khayyam, Hamra, Alamein, Atlas and the Salaheddin, said the educational adviser and longtime movie enthusiast.
The silver screen pulled in audiences in towns across Iraq until 1980 when war broke out with Iran, marking the start of decades of conflict.
It was only in December that Baghdad declared victory after a three-year battle against Daesh.
While the level of violence has declined sharply, the rich cultural life long associated with Iraq has struggled to make a return.
More than a decade of sanctions following Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, as well as long periods of militia and terrorist dominance after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled the dictator, ensured an end to the golden age of cinema in Iraq.
The cinema experience in the country is now restricted to multi-screen theaters in the shopping malls of Baghdad and the main southern city of Basra.
In Kirkuk, which is home to Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen communities, “all the movie theaters have closed, for different reasons but mainly because of security concerns,” said 59-year-old Ayoubi.
Only in the basement of his home can a Kirkuk cinemagoer experience the whir of the film reel and the purring of the projector’s fan.
Ghassan Hawwa, an oil-sector worker who remembers the days of the Atlas and Hamra cinemas, is a regular in the audience on leatherette seats at the weekly rendezvous in the basement.
“Today, everybody watches DVDs or goes on the Internet,” sighed Hawwa, who along with a cluster of co-enthusiasts aim to bring cinema back to life in Kirkuk.
Action and horror flicks are a hit at Ayoubi’s cinema but his personal favorites are Arabic movies, the musical comedies of the 1950s and 1960s, and the good old-fashioned love stories.
Foreign films are also on the program, such as the Spaghetti Westerns whose posters plaster the walls of his small museum that is open to the public on weekends and public holidays.
Ayoubi guides visitors around his museum, giving the history of the reels, projectors and other cinema paraphernalia to a new generation “who know nothing of the cinema world of old.”


Iraq says goodbye to its beloved archaeologist Al-Gailani

Updated 21 January 2019
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Iraq says goodbye to its beloved archaeologist Al-Gailani

  • Al-Gailani was one of Iraq’s first women to excavate the country’s archaeological heritage
  • After the US-led invasion, Al-Gailani continued to travel to Iraq, determined to rescue its heritage even as the country convulsed with war

BAGHDAD: Iraq on Monday mourned the loss of Lamia Al-Gailani, a beloved archaeologist who helped rebuild the Baghdad museum after it was looted following the 2003 US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.
Al-Gailani, who died in Amman, Jordan, on Friday at the age of 80, was one of Iraq’s first women to excavate the country’s archaeological heritage.
Relatives, colleagues, and cultural officials on Monday gathered at Baghdad’s National Museum, the country’s leading museum, to pay their respects before moving her remains to the Qadiriyyah mosque for prayers and later interment.
A devotee of her country’s heritage, Al-Gailani lent her expertise to restore relics stolen from the museum for its reopening in 2015. She also championed a new antiquities museum for the city of Basra, which opened in 2016.
“She was very keen to communicate on the popular level and make archaeology accessible to ordinary people,” said her daughter, Noorah Al-Gailani, who curates the Islamic civilizations collection at the Glasgow Museum in Scotland.
“It is a big loss, the passing of Dr. Lamia Al-Gailaini, who played a great role in the field of archaeology, even before 2003,” said the deputy minister of culture, Qais Hussein Rashid.
The restored collection at the National Museum included hundreds of cylinder seals, the subject of Al-Gailani’s 1977 dissertation at the University of London. These were engraved surfaces used to print cuneiform impressions and pictographic lore onto documents and surfaces in ancient Mesopotamia, now present-day Iraq.
Still, thousands of artefacts remain missing from the museum’s collection, and Al-Gailani bore the grief of watching her country’s rich heritage suffer unfathomable levels of looting and destruction in the years after Saddam’s ouster.
“I wish it was a nightmare and I could wake up,” she told the BBC in 2015, when Daesh militants bulldozed relics at the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud near present-day Mosul.
Born in Baghdad in 1938, Al-Gailani studied at the University of Cambridge in Britain before finding work as a curator at the National Museum in 1960. It was her first job in archaeology, her daughter said.
She returned to Britain in 1970 to pursue advanced studies, and she made her home there. Still, she kept returning to her native country, connecting foreign academics with an Iraqi archaeological community that was struggling under the isolation of Saddam Hussein’s autocratic rule and the UN sanctions against him.
In 1999, she published “The First Arabs,” in Arabic, with the Iraqi archaeologist Salim Al-Alusi, on the earliest traces of Arab culture in Mesopotamia, in the 6th through 9th centuries.
She would bring copies of the book with her to Baghdad and sell them through a vendor on Mutanabbi Street, the literary heart of the capital, according to her daughter.
After the US-led invasion, Al-Gailani continued to travel to Iraq, determined to rescue its heritage even as the country convulsed with war.
At the time of her death, she was working with the Basra Museum to curate a new exhibit set to open in March, said Qahtan Al-Abeed, the museum director.
“She hand-picked the cylinder seals to display at the museum,” said Al-Abeed.