Egyptian-American director Noujaim moved into Al Jazeera’s Doha offices as the US prepared to invade Iraq and stayed for the fall of Baghdad, documenting the knife-edge lives of the media folk and their relationships with the nervy US spokesmen at CentCom, the US army’s media barracks. Noujaim manages to keep her bug’s eye view throughout, remaining firmly behind the scenes and allowing the various characters to reveal themselves in all their complexities. Highly recommended: catch it if you can. (AC)
Control Room, 2003. Directed by Jehane Noujaim (US/Egypt). Documentary, Arabic and English. 83 min.
Sakenine Sarzamine Sokoot
(From the Land of Silence)
Saman Salur settled on the bleak Iranian desert for his first feature, describing the lives of two brothers who survive through keeping camels — contraband carriers addicted to opium — and stealing fuel from lorries and then selling it back to the drivers. The boys — real-life brothers — appear to act themselves, and Salur ably depicts the harsh, unrelenting light of the desert, but the narrative meanders and gradually appears to lose its way. Keep an eye out for the young director’s next project. (AC)
Sakenine Sarzamine Sokoot (From the Land of Silence), 2004. Directed by Saman Salur. Feature, Farsi. 70 min.
Beauty Academy of Kabul
Over a period of ten weeks, Liz Mermin and her crew followed the progress of a beauty school set up recently in Kabul by six American and Afghan-American hairdressers. The acclaimed documentary director simply observes, letting the exchanges between the teachers and their bevy of eager pupils do the talking. At times, the gulf between the new-age Americans and beleaguered, practical Afghans seems almost droll — if only Mermin had sometimes stepped in to draw out this theme further. The beauty action is interspersed by interviews with pupils: these, and the emotional observations of the returning exiled beauticians, lift this ultimately moving film beyond the ordinary. (AC)
Beauty Academy of Kabul, 2004. Directed by Liz Mermin. Documentary, English and Pashto. 74 min.
Oday Rasheed, the writer and director of Underexposure, the first Iraqi feature movie after the war, has a thing about Baghdad. The city of his childhood and youth is ever present in this first uncensored film from Iraq in 30 years. The story ties friends, lovers, strangers and family members together in a complex and vivid world set against the real backdrop of war and upheaval. Oday is proud of being a film school dropout who was unhappy making films under party guidelines and rebellious against a state controlled film system. Early he decided to create experimental symbolic films avoiding intrusive censorship. In his work he confronts his reality and guides the viewer’s conception and perception into understanding the world of Iraq’s society and culture through the eyes of the film director.
The title Underexposure is reminiscent of the condition of the expired film rolls produced by Kodak between 1975 and 1983, which the director bought on the local black market after the fall of Baghdad. Today the film is successfully developed at The Gate — Kodak Cinelabs in Beirut — Lebanon and is now in search of a co-producer to finalize its journey to the theatres of the world.
Again and again Underexposure has proven to be a challenge not only for what we will see on screen but what has happened behind the scenes of relentless efforts, only comprehensible with a look behind the camera with this email by Oday to his friend Furat in Berlin.
Underexposure. Directed by Oday Rasheed (Iraq). Documentary. Details TBA.