Finding Inspiration in Iraq


In recent years, Iraq has been one of the film industry’s most sought-after backdrops. Since the United States’ 2003 invasion into the country, movies set in or around this war-torn battleground range from big-budget Hollywood features like Jarhead to revealing documentaries like Fahrenheit 9/11 to small local productions like Damn Gum, a movie made by Baghdad native Ammar Saad, referencing the current role of Iraqi journalists.

Before the war began, Iraq had a thriving film industry of its own, producing such movies as Clash of Loyalties and The Great Question—which depicted the 1920s British rule over the country—from director Mohamed Shukri Jameel. For more than 60 years, the art form remained a popular cultural outlet until foreign troops destroyed cinemas, equipment and thereby funding in the midst of war. However, there is still hope for the Iraq film industry. After a two-year hiatus, the Association of Iraqi Filmmakers Without Borders hosted the Baghdad International Film Festival last December, where moviemakers—primarily from Egypt, Jordan and Iran—screened nearly 60 short films.

Aside from a recent local boost in the industry, American moviemakers have often used the location as a springboard for current political discussion. Just last year James C. Strouse began a discussion on those that are left behind when war is at hand with his feature Grace is Gone, the story of a family suffering through the aftermath of a loved one killed in the war. Others, like Brian De Palma’s Redacted, have been more jarring and based on true stories. Winner of the Silver Lion award for Best Director at the 2007 Venice Film Festival, De Palma’s movie brought to the screen the brutal crimes committed by American soldiers on a 14-year-old Iraqi girl. Earlier this year Scott Prendergast released his comedy (yes, we said comedy), Kabluey, in which the actor-writer-director stars alongside Lisa Kudrow and Teri Garr as a man who must hold together his brother’s family while his brother is deployed in Iraq.

The latest feature to take a cue from Iraq and the war being fought there is Neil Burger’s The Lucky Ones. Though the movie’s plot follows three American soldiers on a road trip across the U.S., its story lies in the effects brought upon these soldiers by their recent experience in the war-torn country. It is a story of spirit, triumph and hardship. “We didn’t want to do a maudlin, depressing story of three returning Iraq veterans,” explains Tim Robbins, who plays veteran Cheever alongside Rachel McAdams and Michael Peña. “We wanted to find their humanity; we wanted to find their sense of humor. We wanted to show that they are survivors who find the way to recapture the joy in their life.”

Although Iraq may not be the first place a moviemaker would choose to film, it is in huge demand—if not the location itself, then the idea of it, which often plays the role of its own villainous character.

Check out the following movies—only some of the numerous titles made in 2007 alone—that chose to feature this war-torn country:

Grace is Gone
In the Valley of Elah
The Kingdom
Lions for Lambs
Redacted
Rendition

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