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Mobile film festival continues to draw huge crowds in Iraq

As many as 500 Iraqis have come to watch each of the festival's screenings. [File / Mawtani]

As many as 500 Iraqis have come to watch each of the festival's screenings. [File / Mawtani]

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The second annual Mobile Cinema Festival will be moving on to the northern provinces in the coming days after showcasing in Baghdad, Babil, Nasiriyah, Samawa and Diwaniyah.

The festival, which kicked off last month, was organized by cinematic production company Iraq al-Rafidain with support from a number of government and international organizations and private institutions and companies.

Mawtani met with Attia al-Draji, director of the festival and Iraq al-Rafidain, in Baghdad for the following interview:

Mawtani: How did you come up with the idea of the festival? What is the main goal behind it?

Attia al-Draji: We came up with the idea when we were shooting some scenes for "Ibn Babil" by Iraqi director Mohammed al-Draji in the city of Nasiriyah, where citizens would usually assemble to watch the shooting. Most of them wondered where they could watch the movie.

That question attracted our attention, especially since movie theaters in Iraq are almost non-existent and their activities have been suspended. Therefore, we believed it was our responsibility to take this step and organize this type of show so that watching movies may not be restricted to festivals and selective shows.

Our main goal was to bring this art back to life and to restore the rites and habits of Iraqi families, who liked watching movies at the cinema. We also wanted to restore night life in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities and to make the Iraqi government pay attention to bringing movie theaters back to life.

Mawtani: What is the difference between this year's edition and last year's?

Al-Draji: The difference is that this year we managed to get a 35mm film camera, which is the camera used for cinema. We did not have that last year, and therefore, we rented an old film camera that has a technology that does not suit the type of films or systems now used in the world.

We also managed this year to prepare an inflatable mobile display screen that can be prepared on site in record time. Last year, we used a screen of an old technology that required a long time to set up. The equipment we have brought this year was never used before by any entity in Iraq.

Mawtani: How was the turnout?

Al-Draji: We usually prepared 250 seats for each show. However, the audiences were bigger and sometimes reached 500 despite that the shows are held in the open air and can only start after dark. We noticed major attention by citizens, especially in remote towns and districts. Some neighborhoods even started to ask us to present shows in their areas. The people always offered to provide refreshments and hospitality for the attendees.

Mawtani: What films are shown at the festival?

Al-Draji: We chose to show four Iraqi films that won international awards and were the latest productions of Iraqi cinema. These films are: "Ibn Babel" by Iraqi director Mohammed al-Draji, which has so far won 28 international awards and is still taking part in a number of festivals; "Dharbat al-Bedaya" by director Shawkat Amin, which won the first award at the Gulf Festival last year; "Hob Wa Harb" also by director Mohammed al-Draji; and "Frame" by director Luay Fadhil, which won the second award in the 2011 Gulf Festival.

Mawtani: Has the festival been a success?

Al-Draji: This experiment has proved that the Iraqi people are an open people who like to watch whatever is new. This did not come out of nowhere; the tradition of going to the cinema has been around in Iraqi society since the beginning of the 20th century. However, it was the circumstances of wars that created this gap between audiences and the cinema.

There are a number of indicators based on which we felt that attention. For example, when we presented a show in al-Sadr City, most of the audience members just finished prayers at the mosque. I also remember that when we presented a show at Nakrat al-Salman area in the city of Samawa, there were no seats available for the audience, so they just sat on the ground to watch the film.

We also saw how calm would prevail at the place even though there were children in the audience.