One of the strange indicators in Iraqi culture today is the graduation of dozens of cinema and cinematic art enthusiasts from the film departments in academies and technical institutes every year. Yet, they are taken aback by the harsh reality that there is no real cinema production, and the harsher fact that there are no movie houses in the country.
Bashar Kazem, a young film director and critic, told Al-Monitor, “The number of graduates from the cinema departments in Iraq ranges between 60-70 students per year.” However, “The number of graduates does not necessarily produce any sort of movement in [Iraqi] cinema. The methodology used in the program is classical and academic, lacking the practical components or measures to keep up with technological developments. Thus, there is a lack of technical personnel capable of making a film.”
These harsh facts are countered with the vital facts that highlight the importance of film in shaping the sources of contemporary culture in Iraq. The last big American film before Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was “Batman,” whose premiere was shown in the Babel movie theater on Saadoun Street, in the middle of Baghdad’s social and cultural district. The premiere of this film in Iraq coincided with showings in various capitals around the world. This goes to show that, at the time, the latest American films were being screened and attracted the attention of many Hollywood fans in Iraq.
With the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the imposition of the toughest sanctions in UN history, Iraq’s movie theaters were unable to import new films.
In the days following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, many anticipated that American culture would prevail. Yet, the paradox is that the “new Iraq” has witnessed a merciless war against all forms of modernity in terms of culture, the arts and sciences, in favor of religious extremism. This reflected the presence of representatives of religious extremism among the ruling political elites. Following 2003, movie screens turned off, theaters were closed, and sometimes even burned down. This was the case in the majority of Iraq’s Arab provinces, where music and CD shops were defaced.