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

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 Pavilion at Venice Biennale shuts in solidarity with protesters

The Iraq Pavilion at the Venice Biennale has shut down in solidarity with protesters. Supplied
Updated 13 November 2019

Iraq Pavilion at Venice Biennale shuts in solidarity with protesters

  • In a show of solidarity with anti-government protestors, the Iraq Pavilion at the Venice Biennale has shut down
  • Initially set to run until Nov. 24, the exhibition entitled “Fatherland” was closed on Nov. 5.

DUBAI: Iraq is currently in the midst of ongoing anti-government protests that have claimed the lives of more than 260 Iraqis since they erupted earlier this month. In a show of solidarity, the Iraq Pavilion at the Venice Biennale has shut down.

Initially set to run until Nov. 24, the exhibition entitled “Fatherland” was closed on Nov. 5.

“Fatherland” is a collection of expressionist paintings by Iraqi-Kurdish artist Serwan Baran that were commissioned by Baghdad-based non-profit organization the Ruya Foundation, which in an official statement shared that the move was to show support to “the popular youth uprisings that have erupted in Iraq against state corruption and deteriorating economic and living conditions.”

“We condemn the use of violence against peaceful protesting, and the bloodshed that has led to the death of over 265 protesters so far,” read the statement shared on the organization’s Twitter account. “Peaceful protesting is a basic right, enshrined in Article 38.c of the Iraqi Constitution.”

“Since our founding in late 2012, we have worked hard, frequently in inhospitable circumstances, to create a platform for artists across Iraq to freely express their creativity, in a firm belief that culture is an integral component of any society, and a powerful force for change towards an open and free country. This is particularly important for Iraq, given its difficult recent history and authoritarian past,” it continued.

The Baghdad-based foundation, which was co-founded by Tamara Chalabi, daughter of former Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, has overseen the Iraq Pavilion in Venice since 2013.