GUY RAZ, host:
Another film, this one from Iraq called "Open Shutters: Iraq," is making the rounds at the Arabian Sights Film Festival. It's an annual showcase of new Arab cinema that kicks off here in Washington, D.C. this weekend.
The woman who made this film, Maysoon Pachachi, comes from an illustrious Iraqi family. Her father, Adnan, was the country's foreign minister in the pre-Saddam Hussein era.
Maysoon Pachachi grew up outside Iraq but she returned in 2004 to open a film school. Her latest documentary follows 12 women from all over the country as they learn photography and begin to document their own lives.
Maysoon Pachachi is here with me in the studio.
Welcome to the program.
Ms. MAYSOON PACHACHI (Filmmaker, "Open Shutters: Iraq"): Thank you.
RAZ: Tell us about this group of women.
Ms. PACHACHI: Well, the project was a participatory photography project run by a young British photojournalist called Eugenie Dolberg. She found people who found people, who found people. And so it was through a sort of network of acquaintances. And then she had to travel up and down the country and convince people's families that it was okay for them to go and spend a month, you know, in a house with a lot of other strange people learning photography.
RAZ: There are moments in this film where we see these women talking about the most intimate and painful details in their lives. Now, I want to hear just a clip from this.
(Soundbite of "Open Shutters: Iraq")
Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)
Ms. PACHACHI: Part of this photographic project involved the women making huge life maps, big charts of their life. And then each woman got up in front of the others and told her life story, with reference to this chart. And the others just listened. This was an extraordinary experience for everybody because through 35 years of sanctions, war, dictatorship and so forth, nobody had a chance to speak, really, or to think about the people that they'd lost and what had happened in their lives.
So this clip is about a woman from Basra talking about a point at which she was pregnant and her brother had been arrested because he was accused of being part of an uprising after 1991. And her mother was in a terrible state and so forth, and so she thought she was going to have the baby. But the midwife said, well, it won't come until the morning so you can leave her on her own, and the rest of family went to console the mother.
But during the night the baby did come and the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and the baby died.
RAZ: Explain a little bit the premise behind the project. Women are trained to make photo documentaries. And then what happens?
Ms PACHACHI: Part of the life map exercise was to allow them to follow the thread of their lives and then they came up with the stories that they wanted to tell back in Iraq, photo stories. And they went back and they shot them, as well as hundreds of other photographs.
RAZ: Tell me a little bit about the photographs that they took.
Ms PACHACHI: They were quite different. The individuality of people was quite apparent in the photographs. The woman who did a story from Basra, for example, was full of kind of agony for what had happened to her city. And the photographs are very beautiful. They're suffused with this extraordinary light, and it's kind of slightly nostalgic but it's full of ruin.
There's a woman from Mosul who did a story about motherhood. She's very concerned about the safety of her children and trying to keep her family together.
RAZ: You returned to Iraq and set up a film school...
Ms PACHACHI: Yeah.
RAZ: ...in 2004. Talk a little bit about filmmaking, this coming out of Iraq right now. I mean are there filmmakers who are able to produce feature length films or documentaries?
Ms PACHACHI: Increasingly, but it's very difficult. I mean we've just come out of a situation of unspeakable violence and unpredictability and so forth. And it was very difficult to do anything, really, at that time. You couldn't shoot on the streets at all.
But Iraqis quite like a challenge. And, for example, there's a young man - Iraqi filmmaker who is actually living in England now, and he shot two feature films, one on the streets of Baghdad where he got kidnapped twice and his camera got broken and so on. But he finishes the film and it went around to many, many festivals. And he's just finished a second feature now.
And there are other people starting to make feature and short fiction and small documentaries. It's beginning, but there's no infrastructure at all and there's no support for it.
RAZ: Filmmaker, Maysoon Pachachi. Her new documentary is called "Open Shutters: Iraq."
Maysoon Pachachi, thanks so much.
Ms PACHACHI: Thank you.
RAZ: You can see a slide show of the photos featured in that film, "Open Shutters: Iraq," at our Web site, NPR.org.
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