Iraqi youth make their films in war-torn Mosul

(AFP) – Lifting a section of her white dress, the bride climbs the rubble in the middle of the ruins of Old Mosul. “Action!” launches the apprentice-director, an Iraqi student just introduced to cinema in the former jihadist stronghold.

In the metropolis of northern Iraq, which bears the scars of the war against the Islamic State (IS) group, a Cinema Department has been created, the result of collaboration between a Belgian theater, UNESCO and the Institute. of Fine Arts Mosuliote.

Following a four-month course, the 19 students wrote and directed nine short films for the first time, accompanied by professors from Belgium and Germany.

“The idea was to teach them how to write a screenplay, act in a film, edit”, summarizes Milo Rau, artistic director of the NTGent theater, in Ghent, Belgium, and initiator of the project.

Camera on their shoulder and pole with microphone in hand, these young people just out of their teens have walked the streets to tell about Mosul’s wounds and the ills of society.

In the warm December light enveloping the ruins of Old Mosul, Maryam in a wedding dress steps out of a half-collapsed house, sweeping the horizon with a pained gaze in search of her husband.

Went out to smoke a cigarette, Muhanad goes to walk on a mine.

Children gather, women from the neighborhood stop, looking amused, to watch the shoot. A reluctant neighbor turns on his generator and refuses to turn it off.

“We lose the light”, regularly launches one of the teachers, urging the students who follow the scenes as the sun goes down.

– Fast and furious –

Before filming, Mohammed Fawaz, 20, reviews the handling of the camera and discusses focus with his Belgian teacher Daniel Demoustier.

The theater student dreams of being an actor. He discovers for the first time behind the scenes of the seventh art.

“I have loved cinema for a long time,” he confides, candidly citing among his references the Marvel productions of American superheroes, or the Fast and Furious saga.

With the arrival of IS in 2014, he recounts four years spent at home without television or outings, deprived of school. He then learned English, through books and informal lessons from a loved one, teaching Shakespeare’s language.

His entry into Fine Arts, once the jihadists were defeated in 2017, is a bit like “the passage from the Stone Age to modernity”.

He and some comrades have already decided “to make films about Mosul and the war,” says the boy with the frail figure, dark complexion and thick jet-black hair.

“We live in Mosul, we know everything that happened, the tragedies. We want to show it all to the world through cinema.”

After a month of intensive courses in October, the students went on to shoot, taking turns in the different cinema professions, explains Mr. Demoustier, cameraman and director.

The equipment brought for the training – camera, lenses, computers, sound system – will remain in Mosul. “The idea being that the students will reuse them and make films on their own. If three or four of them succeed, it will already be a great success,” he adds.

– Mosul Film Festival? –

“This is my first experience in cinema, everything was new”, timidly confides Tamara Jamal, 19, her face framed by a black veil, floating in a loose waistcoat.

In her short film, she tells the nightmare of a little girl whose father beats her mother.

Domestic violence, early marriage, street children: “most of the students tell stories where children play the main role,” said Susana Abdulmajid, Iraqi-German actress and teacher, whose family is from Mosul.

“There is a kind of will to return to childhood, to a time of innocence,” she adds.

In January the students will start editing. Their works, lasting up to five minutes, will be screened in Mosul before being presented in European festivals, explains director Milo Rau.

His Iraqi adventure began with the play “Orestes in Mosul”, adapted from Aeschylus’ Greek tragedy, produced in 2018-2019 with the participation of students from the city.

The objective now is to secure funding to ensure the sustainability of the Cinema Department. And next step: “create with partners a small Mosul film festival”.