This year’s month-long Reel Festival attempts to uncover the Iraq behind the headlines. Kirstin Innes speaks to the organisers
The point of Charlie Brooker’s excellent Newswipe series, which ended recently, seemed to be that, far from being an honest and agenda-free information source, the news is just as much a constructed text as, say, a novel or a film. And for most people in Scotland, their idea of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan will be filtered through that constructed text. We understand Iraq as a site of bombings and conflict – despite the efforts of voices like the Guardian’s ‘Baghdad Blogger’ Salaam Pax, we do not, on the whole, imagine it as a country where people live and breathe and go about their daily lives.
‘Yeah, when you mention Iraq, most people think of militias and suicide bombers,’ says Dan Gorman, the programmer of Edinburgh’s two month-long Reel Iraq festival, which starts today. ‘But, at the same time as all that is happening, there are still all these artists existing there, and making work. A lot of them are refugees now, but that doesn’t make their work any less valuable. They’ve all got stories to tell of their own to offer, and we want to give them space for those stories to be heard.’
The idea behind the Reel Iraq festival (the same company organised Reel Afghanistan, a celebration of Afghani cinema, last year) is to offer us a chance to experience different perspectives on the country – through the work of its filmmakers, writers, musicians, artists and academics.
‘This year the festival is bigger than Reel Afghanistan. We’re not just concentrating on cinema, either; we’ve got lectures, discussions and literary reading by some of the best Iraqi writers, because we wanted to give people the chance to really engage with the topics and issues raised.’
Highlights of the festival include a lecture series tracing the history of the country, James Longley’s cinematic opus Iraq in Fragments (pictured), appearances from novelists Sinan Antoon and Hussain al-Mozany, and, on Saturday, a concert featuring Farida and the Iraqi Maqam Ensemble, one of the most important groups in the country promoting the traditional maqam form.
‘The concert’s going to be amazing,’ says Gorman. ‘The support act, the Babylon Arabic Band, are a Edinburgh-based group put together by an Iraqi living in Scotland. I like the way the concert links together the Scottish Iraqi population with that scattered around the world.
‘We really want to involve the whole community, have them come along, chat to each other and think about the issues raised. That’s all we want to do. We’re not trying to put forward any particular angle, or agenda; just to give as honest and complete a portrayal of that country as possible.’
Reel Iraq, Thu 14 May–Sun 12 Jul, various venues, Edinburgh. See www.reelfestivals.org