Monday, April 22

Belgian theater group joins forces with UNESCO to help Iraqi youth make a film in Mosul

A budding Iraqi filmmaker yells “action!” as an actress climbs through the rubble in Mosul’s old city, a proud student of a fledgling film school in the former war zone.

Mosul, in northern Iraq, has seen many actions over the years, but not of this kind. It still bears the scars of the brutal reign of the Islamic State group, which invaded the city in 2014 and imposed its ultra-conservative interpretation of Islamic law.

They destroyed everything from centuries-old churches to musical instruments, before being defeated in a devastating battle in 2017.

Now, in a collaboration between the Mosul Academy of Fine Arts, a Belgian theater company and cultural agency of the UN The UNESCO, 19 students have the opportunity to make their first short films.

“We live in Mosul, we know everything that happened,” said Mohammed Fawaz, a 20-year-old theater student. “We want to show everything to the world through the cinema.”

During a four-month course, students try out everything from writing and filming to acting and editing, according to Milo Rau, artistic director of the Belgian theater company NTGent that is behind the initiative.

Cameras With microphones in hand, the students are now walking the streets of Mosul to tell stories of their wounded city.

Heartbreaking plot

An actress dressed as a bride searches for her husband and discovers that he has stepped on a landmine.

Children and other residents huddle in curiosity, while a neighbor refuses to turn off a noisy generator.

“We are losing the light,” one of the instructors reminds the students as the December sun sets.

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Studying at the academy of fine arts after the defeat of IS was a bit like “going from the Stone Age to modernity,” said student Fawaz.

A fan of blockbuster movies like Wonderful and the “Fast and Furious” franchises, Fawaz spent several of his teenage years at home without television or education with extremists, learning English through books and a helpful neighbor.

He and some colleagues have already decided “to make films about Mosul and its war,” Fawaz said.

After an intensive month-long session in October, the students have been trying out different roles as they pair up to make their films, said Belgian instructor, cameraman and filmmaker Daniel Demoustier.

All the equipment, such as glasses and sound equipment brought in from abroad, will stay, he said, with the goal of the students “picking it up again and starting to make their movies on their own.”

Even if only three or four do it, “it will be a huge success,” he said.

Yearning for childhood

Tamara Jamal, 19, said the course was her “first experience” with movie theater.

Her short film tells the story of a girl whose father beats her mother, while others have explored topics such as early marriage.

“Most of the students prefer to talk about stories in which children play the main role,” said Susana AbdulMajid, an Iraqi-German actress and teacher whose family is originally from Mosul.

The city’s youth “have been through a lot of difficult and horrible things … there is a kind of longing for childhood, and also for a time of innocence,” he said.

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The nine student works, each lasting up to five minutes, will be screened in Mosul in February before being presented at European festivals, Rau said.

His production of “Orestes in Mosul”, an adaptation of the ancient Greek tragedy of Aeschylus, ran in 2018-2019 with the participation of local students.

The goal now is to secure funding to keep the film department running, he said.

The next step will be “to have a small film festival in Mosul … continuing what we started.”

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