CULTURE & ARTS
10/06/2011 04:18 pm ET Updated Dec 05, 2011

Baghdad International Film Festival Improves Cultural Connections

Baghdad is making strides to end its decade-long phase of cultural isolation with the upcoming Baghdad International Film Festival.

The cultural collaboration is comprised of 150 films from 32 countries including France, the Netherlands, Morocco, Belgium, Lebanon and Denmark. This is the third event of its kind since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The festival illustrates the country's effort to expand its cultural barriers; AFP quotes the festival jury's international judge, who said: "Culture, in Iraq or elsewhere, is like the sea without a shore -- it has no end, no barriers, it cannot be stopped."

The festival opened in the city center Monday evening, complete with a red carpet, glitzed up youths and swarming news reporters. The films will battle it out before a jury competing for awards in the categories best drama, best short film and best documentary, best young Iraqi director and the best female Arab filmmaker.

Yet the festival was not without setbacks. Funds for the event came up short and government authorities were not supportive, reportedly because they doubted the event would actually occur. According to Reuters, "Attendees grumbled over the poor screen quality. After about 10 minutes, many in the audience began to leave." These issues contributed to the sparse executions of the film festival, originally intended to be an annual affair. The last festival was in 2007.

Iraq's cultural output has plummeted in recent years. The height of Iraqi cinema was in the 1980's when moviegoing was a cultural norm. 1991's Gulf War contributed to its decline and in 2003 many of the cinemas burned to the ground. Yet this festival represents a moment of hope for what remains one of the world's most violent countries. Tater Alwan, one of the festival's directors, called it a "turning point" that hopefully will "stimulate cultural life in Iraq" as quoted by AFP.

As a country that faces violence and political unrest, Iraq encounters daily battles which supersede the need for leisurely activities such as cinema. Yet a country without cinema is a country culturally isolated from the rest of the world. Organizers hope that it will represent a step toward cultural involvement that is more than an opportunity for creativity to receive its deserved outlet; it may also be a chance to connect Iraq with the rest of the world.