Founded and run by three phenomenal women -- Róisín Tapponi, Shahnaz Dulaimy and Israa Al-Kamali -- the inaugural edition of the Independent Iraqi Film Festival took place in the midst of a pandemic, in the summer of 2020. It proved a resounding success, hosting the UK premiere of Samir’s Baghdad in My Shadow (2019) at Curzon, Soho. It also screened a varied programme online, which reached over 5,000 people worldwide.
This year's festival will open with Khalid Alzhraou’s cult classic Tonight, Next Week (2009), which focuses on the film industry in Iraq as its subject. At its peak, Iraq had more than 80 cinemas and produced over 100 feature films. Today, Iraq has lost the majority of its cinemas and with most of its original film prints missing, Alzhraou’s film begs the question: how will the culture of cinema continue to survive? IIFF will close with Koutaiba al Janabi’s Leaving Baghdad (2010), a moving drama distributed by Berlin’s Mec Film. With footage shot by a fictional character named Sadik -- who is meant to be Saddam Hussein's personal cameraman -- Koutaiba Al-Janabi weaves real footage from Saddam's now accessible archive into his own unique, classic documentary style.
This year's festival will also highlight the voices of those marginalised voices in the country. IIFF will be screening Balanja (2015) by Ali Raheem, the founder of leading Iraqi film production company, Sumerian Dreams. This rarely-screened documentary amplifies Kurdish voices, as we watch four people from Kurdistan in their struggle to save their town from the hardship and bitterness of the past. Another exciting addition to the programme is Iraqi Women: Voices From Exile (1994) by Iraqi auteur Maysoon Pachachi, recently interviewed by MIME. The documentary brings the voices of Iraqi women to the forefront of the political struggle.
There are also three shorts programmes, which promise to amplify the most exciting emerging filmmakers from Iraq and the diaspora, and those trailblazing the wider visual arts. Diasporic Voices: Iraq From a Distance will feature four films from Iraqis in the Western diaspora, including Return (2014) by veteran visual artist Michael Rakowitz. From comedy to nostalgia, these films construct Iraq from the memory of exile, envisioning a home from afar, or a home that no longer exists at all. This programme also includes work by Ja'far Abd Alhamid, Noor Gaith and Saif Alsaegh.
Home Videos: Experimenting with the Archive will highlight moving-image and video work by Iraqi visual artists, who use experimental techniques to represent their stories. With previous screenings at the Venice Biennale, MoMA and The Showroom, Kurdish artist Sherko Abbas will join IIFFF with his video Paper Puppet Testimony, which reconstructs the Kurdish uprising of 1991, an event that continues to be an important historical event for all Kurdish people. Included in this programme, work by Shamiran Istifan and Ali Kamel as well.
On The Ground: Stories From Inside Iraq will feature emerging voices from inside Iraq. With guerrilla filmmaking techniques and highly captivating images, Mounir Salah, Alia Hassan, Heba Bassem and Karrar Al Azzawi promise to show Iraq as it exists today, with a raw and vital force.
Three Q&A's will also feature in this year's line-up. Róisín Tapponi will host a discussion with Michael Rakowitz, Iraq’s most famous contemporary visual artisBased in Chicago, Rakowitz’s work has appeared in venues worldwide including dOCUMENTA (13), P.S.1, MoMA, Palais de Tokyo, the 16th Biennale of Sydney, the 10th and 14th Istanbul Biennials and Sharjah Biennial 8. He has had solo exhibitions with Tate Modern, Lombard Freid Gallery, and numerous more. He is the recipient of the 2020 Nasher Prize; the 2018 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts; a 2012 Tiffany Foundation Award; a Sharjah Biennial Jury Award; the 2002 Design 21 Grand Prix from UNESCO and many more. He was awarded the Fourth Plinth commission (2018-2020) in London’s Trafalgar Square. From 2019 - 2020, a survey of Rakowitz’s work traveled from Whitechapel Gallery in London, to the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai. Rakowitz is Professor of Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University.
Shahnaz Dulaimy will host a discussion with actress Zahraa Ghandour, who is the most famous and in-demand Iraqi actress working right now. Zahraa Ghandour’s first leading role was Mohammed al Daradji’s The Journey, which premiered at TIFF in 2017 and represented Iraq in nominations in the foreign feature category at the 2019 Academy Awards. More recently, she starred in Samir’s Baghdad in My Shadow (2019). In parallel, she is working on a number of acting projects for television, which included the Channel 4 series Baghdad Central.
Israa Al-Kamali hosts a discussion with Iraqi set designer Mohammed Khalid about set design.
Now a bit about the founders of this impressive festival. Róisín Tapponi is the Co-Founder and Programmer of IIFF. She is also the Founder of Habibi Collective, a platform for women’s cinema from South-West Asia and North Africa (SWANA). She is the Founder CEO of Shasha, the world’s first streaming service for SWANA cinema. Tapponi has curated films at numerous institutions including MoMA; Sharjah Art Foundation and festivals and independent spaces across the world. She has led industry masterclasses at Locarno Film Festival, CPH:DOX and Sheffield Doc Fest; and has been on the Jury for many festivals, most recently Open City Documentary Festival (2021). She has lectured on SWANA cinema at leading institutions including Oxford University, University College London (UCL), UC Berkeley and Northwestern University. She is also an independent curator, writer at Frieze Magazine, Founder Editor-in-Chief of ART WORK Magazine and a PhD student.
Shahnaz Dulaimy is the Co-Founder and Designer of IIFF, and a renowned feature film editor -- the first Avid Certified Editor in the Middle East. She began her editing career by working on multi-award winning productions including the Oscar nominated film Theeb by Naji Abu Nowar, and Annemarie Jacir’s When I Saw You. Most recently, she has been working alongside the Oscar nominated director Basil Khalil on his first feature length film A Gaza Weekend. Aside from editing, Shahnaz is also a member of Habibi Collective.
Israa al-Kamali is the Co-Founder and Social Media Manager at IIFF, and is an LA and Qatar-based Iraqi filmmaker, screenwriter, and poet. She explores cultural and social issues through her writing and filmmaking. Her poetry, which she performed in various events and platforms, explores themes of displacement and language deconstruction. Her recent piece, Different is Tonight, was published in an E-book titled Together Apart by Hamad bin Khalifa University which served as a collection of human experiences during the pandemic. Israa is currently working on her feature-length film while pursuing her MFA in Filmmaking at New York Film Academy (LA).
For more information about the festival, check out the IIFF website.