What can you do when nearly all of the cinemas in the country have been destroyed by bombs and warfare, obliterating a flourishing film industry? When people can no longer go to the cinema, you bring the cinema to the people, was the reasoning that inspired Dutch-Iraqi film maker Al-Daradji in 2007. Although people laughed at the idea at the time, this summer his mobile cinema is touring Iraq to bring films to various locations.
In a country at war where nothing has happened for years after sunset for the sake of security, as dusk fell a small, outdoor cinema was erected to which all were welcomed. Al-Daradji and his team play Iraqi films until late in the evening. When the mobile cinema opened for the first time early in August, 300 people and a horde of media flocked to the site. It is now known to all: two weeks ago a mosque in a small village emptied during evening prayers when the film started rolling.
"The responses are magnificent", says Al-Daradji. "One elderly woman thanked me, in tears, for bringing back her youth. Young people have often never seen a film on a large screen. Of the two hundred and seventy-five cinemas that once existed in Iraq, only four are left. Our once-flourishing film industry was annihilated; even the students of film academies have never been to the cinema."
Al-Daradji hopes that his project will make an impression on the government. "More attention needs to be devoted to culture. I am convinced that the cinema can have an enormous effect. It teaches you to view the world through different eyes. I came to understand other cultures through their films. All major conflicts are rooted in a lack of understanding. Films can nurture understanding and hopefully help to combat violence."
Al-Daradji also hopes Iraqis will take a more detached view of their own situation. "They are surrounded by violence and the war, but have no way to reflect upon that fact because there is no distance. All of the films we play are about Iraq and were made in the country itself. By looking at your country and the conflicts as a viewer, from the dark and at a distance, you can think more clearly about it, and perhaps arrive at a different, and more thoroughly contemplated, viewpoint." The mobile cinema will tour Iraqi through the end of September. There are vague plans to repeat the project next summer. But what Al-Daradji really hopes is that his cinema will no longer be needed by then.
The mobile cinema is supported by Hivos and DOEN Foundation.