BAGHDAD (AFP) ― The Baghdad International Film Festival, which runs all this week, is the latest effort by Iraqis to use an improving but precarious security situation to break their decades-long cultural isolation.
The opening ceremony on Monday had all the glitz of a major film premiere.
A huge crowd, mostly young, massed along a red carpet as ushers handed out glossy programs at the entrance to the national theater in the city centre.
Inside, television news crews raced between interviews, jostling particularly fiercely to interview Abdelaziz Belrhali, a Moroccan who heads a festival of short films from across the Arab world in his home country and who is the only international member of the film festival’s jury.
“Culture, in Iraq or elsewhere, is like the sea without a shore ― it has no end, no barriers, it cannot be stopped,” he said.
More than 150 films from 32 countries will be aired at venues across the capital over the course of the eight days of the festival, the third of its kind since the US-led invasion of 2003.
The previous edition lasted four days in December 2007, screening 63 films at the Palestine Hotel in central Baghdad. The first film festival was held in September 2005, screening 58 locally-made short films over six days at the Mansour Melia hotel, also in the city center.
Films this year will be judged for awards in three categories ― best drama, best short film and best documentary, with two other prizes reserved for the best young Iraqi director, and the best female Arab filmmaker.
Despite Belrhali’s optimism, however, the film festival faced difficulties ― it was hampered by a shortfall in funds and a lack of interest from the authorities, obstacles that go some way towards explaining why the last film festival was held four years ago.
Taher Alwan, one of the festival’s directors, said that he had worked for months to put the week-long program together.
“We contacted all the senior officials in the government and told them about the festival, but the response was very weak because no one believed we would actually organize the festival,” he said.
Alwan also suggested he had been made to pay to obtain authorization documents to hold the festival at all, a sign of Iraq’s pervasive graft.
Transparency International ranks it among the four most corrupt countries in the world.
Alwan said that funding problems and question marks over Iraq’s security were why no festival had been held since 2007 but voiced hope that it would soon become an annual fixture.
Despite a sharp reduction in the number of attacks since unrest peaked in 2006 and 2007, Iraq remains one of the world’s most violent countries.