Big Screen Cinema Returns To Basra After A 13-Year Halt
Iraq's southern city of Basra is seeing a revival of cinema after a long hiatus caused by a turbulent period in the country.
Years of ongoing wars, strict sanctions imposed in the 1990s along with deadly terrorist attacks had destroyed the film industry and cinemas in Iraq.
But now, after 13 long years of having no movie theatres, a five-cinema complex opened its doors in Basra earlier this year now that the oil-rich city is seeing relatively calmer days.
The cinema project is funded by Mini-Basra, an investment that aims to uplift cultural activities in the city.
The new cinema complex cost about $4 million and boasts a high quality audio and visual system, according to the projects Executive Director, Ramadan al-Badran.
"We have five cinemas with a capacity of 700 spectators in total. The first cinema has 300 seats while the other four galleries have 100 seats each. All of them [cinemas] were named after names of the previous cinemas such as al-Hamra, al-Kirnic, al-Rasheed, Atlas and al-Watani. All cinemas are equipped with state-of-the-art audio and visual equipment,'' he said.
An Iranian Islamic film titled 'Mohammed, Messenger of God' produced by Iranian Mohammed Mahdi inaugurated the cinema's opening and saw a high turnout of Basra residents.
Ahmed Majeed, who came to see the film, said the cinema plays an important role in the society.
"After 2003, cinemas and showrooms were targeted by several attacks from parties that did not understand the culture of cinema. It is a culture that is able to send lots of messages to the society. Most civilized cities around the world and even the Islamic world have cinemas that could send expressive messages to the societies about their conditions, hardships, sufferings and aspirations, a matter which Basra has lost for 9 years. Today, we celebrate the opening of big cinemas in Basra with the attendance of Basra families, who can now follow up on the latest [film] developments of what has been shown around the world," he said.
The cinema project is a large investment that started construction in 2016 and imported viewing screens from France, Australia and America.
Amar Abdul-Jabar, another Basra resident, was overjoyed that cinemas had returned to his city.
"As a citizen from Basra, we welcome the idea of opening cinemas. It is a good idea which is regarded as a breather for the Basra family in search of tranquility and comfort away from the turmoil. Basra was known for having good places for families to rest and retreat, but over the years such places vanished. Now, the beautiful days have started to return gradually and this initiative is one of such nice days," he said.
The first Iraqi film aired in 1909, but going to the cinema was not truly regarded as a cultural activity or pastime until the 1920s.
The Iraqi government's cinema department was established in 1959 but produced just two feature-length films in the next decade along with a handful of documentaries.
During the 24-year rule of Saddam Hussein from 1979, the industry mainly served as a propaganda tool for his Baathist party, which also commissioned art, theatre and music.
The films focused mainly on the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war, portraying Iraq as the victor in the conflict, which ended in a stalemate and ceasefire. One film called "The Long Days" told of Saddam's life story.
The heyday of the industry came in the 1970s, when the government established its first theatre, allocated more funds for full-length movies and attracted filmmakers from other Arab countries.
After the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in 2003 and toppled Saddam, movie archives and equipment were looted, and later sectarian violence drained the country of artistic talent.
Film production stalled in the country that once boasted 82 cinema theatres. The infrastructure of the industry deteriorated. Film laboratories and cameras fell into disrepair and cinemas were forced to close.