This blog is sponsored by

Tag Cloud
1968 1972 1991 2011 Egyptian Revolution accent Ahmad Abdalla Ahmed Zaki Algeria Algerian cinema Algerian Revolution Ali Suliman Al-Kitkat Al-Monitor Alwaleed bin Talal anarchism Another day in Baghdad Antonio Banderas Arab American National Museum Arab cinema Arab film Arab media auteur banned Barthes Bayoumi Beirut Ben Affleck Bessem Youssef Betrayal Black Gold Breathless Brendan Gleeson British Cannes Charles Laughton Charles Lloyd: Arrows into Infinity Chile Chronicle of the Years of Embers cinema cineme revolution civil war classic Colin Farrell Comedy controversial crime Cutouts of Memories cynicism Damien Chazelle Daoud Abdel Sayed dark comedy David Fincher Day of the Falcon Detroit Institute of Arts dialect Diary of a Country Prosecutor documentary Doha Film Institute Doha Tribeca Film Festival Donal Mosher Dorothy Darr drama DTFF Dubai Intternational Film Festival egyptian Egyptian cinema Egyptian film Egyptian silent movies Ehab Tarabieh El-Kitkat Emma Stone epic erotic expressionism film film festival film industry film production football Freida Pinto gangster Ghassan Kanafani Gillian Flynn Gothic governmentality Hiam Abbas Hiroshima Mon Amour historic drama historical horror Hussein Kamal Ibrahim Aslan iconoclasm indie film indigenousness Ingmar Bergman interview Intolerance Iraq ISIL ISIS Israel James Agee jazz Jean Baudrillard Jean-Jacques Annaud Jeffery Morse John Legend Kamal Atiyah Khaled Abol Naga Khalid Ali La La Land Laila Marrakchi Land of Fear language Last Year at Marienbad Latin jazz Lebanese Lebanese cinema Lebanon lecture movie Lilian Gish list of Egyptian movies Los Angeles Mahmed Nedali Mahmoud Abdel Aziz Mark Strong Martin McDonagh matryrdom medical humanities melodrama Memento Michael Palmieri misandry misanthropy misogyny Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina mohannad ghawanmeh Moroccan Nadine Labaki Najwa Najjar National Arab Orchestra nationalism Neil Patrick Harris Newt Gingrich Night of the Hunter nihilism nihlist cinema Off Label Omar Lotfi Omar Mullick Omar Sharif Pachachi Palestine Palestinian Palestino Palme d'Or Pier Paolo Pasolini Point Blank police brutality published Qasaqees ath-Thikrayat Qatar Qatari production Rags and Tatters Rashomon realism realist drama Robert Mitchum Rodney King Rosamund Pike Ryan Gosling satire Saudi Arabia Shelley Winters short film Shukri Sarhan silent cinema soccer social comedy social drama suicide suspense Syria Syrian cinema Tahar Rahim Tarak Ben Ammar Tawfiq al-Hakim Tawfiq Saleh terrorism The Curious Case of Benjamin Button The Deceived The Duped The Dupes The Fruit Hunters The Godfather Part II The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance The Postman The Wages of Fear These Bird Walk thriller TIFF Tinatin Gurchiani Toronto International Film Festival transnational cinema transnationalism Two for the Road Tyler Perry Um-Hashim's Lantern US occupation Wadjda Wahhabism Walter Benjamin William Mitchell Woody Allen World Cup Yahya Haqqi Yasmina Khadra Yorgo Voyagis Yung Chang Ziad Doueiri أحمد زكي أرض الخوف الصدمه الكيت كات المخدوعون جناح الهوى داوود عبدالسيد قصاقيص الذكريات وقائع سنين الجمر وهلّأ لوين؟

Entries in Pachachi (1)


Open Shutters (2008): Cinema of Empowerment

Dear readers,

Below is an interview I conducted with UK based Iraqi filmmaker Maysoon Pachachi about her documentary film Open Shutters and on occasion of her preparing to shoot her first fiction feature Another Day in Baghdad, a project that happens to inolve participants in Open Shutters made a decade earlier.


1. The discussion about the line between exploitation and evocation in photographing people is a provocative and generative one that comes up early in Open Shutters. How does this concern come up in your own work, in what you decide to photograph and what you decide to include in the film’s final cut?

I think 'exploitation' is when someone is used in an instrumental way, to illustrate a point, to represent a type, state of being, when no proper attention is paid to the actual person as a particular individual. As a documentary filmmaker, I work in an observational way, trying to look and listen as carefully and honestly as I can, to maybe intuit what is going on 'under the surface.' I try to remain as open as I can. I don't write a 'narrative' ahead of time and it is actually in the course of shooting that I discover what the 'story' might be. I really don't like documentaries, which try to foist a spurious sense of drama or a fictional storytelling form on what is essentially something being lived at that moment in front of the camera. This feels to me like a kind of exploitation.  You never really know what will happen, or what someone will say and for me, anyway, this state of unknowing is very productive and allows you to really open yourself to the people you are filming. I'm also careful about  including something in the cut of a film that the person might have a problem with. I always check.

2. A little into the second half of the film, shot in an art center outside of Damascus, Nawara Mahfoud makes two wonderful critical observations relating to which I’d like to ask a question: How did you as a filmmaker handle tapping into the inner worlds of grief and heightened trauma of the photographer women? If, as Mahfoud states, she had encountered people who appear mighty, but then at some point when turning inward they collapse, if as Mahfoud states, one of the challenges of expressing pathos is that others never fully appreciate our own experiences then how do you as a filmmaker maximize the pathos channeled to the viewer? Perhaps you disagree with these postulates, but as a documentary filmmaker you are compelled to make decisions about highly sensitive, private, and painful matters in electing to make a film such as Open Shutters. Your production company website states that “all of Maysoon’s and Oxymoron’s documentary films have in common a drive to let people tell their own stories and to depict them not as victims only, as so many well-meaning films do, but as complex, often contradictory, individual human beings, who may be caught up in difficult circumstances.” Could you fill us in on some of your thinking?

This relates to the answer to the first question.  For me it's a matter of looking and listening in as open a way as possible.  You can actually feel the grief or trauma or fear in people even if they are being stoic or are trying to hide it--I won't push it but it's like a vibration you feel from people and it's maybe subtle, but it's visible if you are really watching. Sometimes it's a word stumbled over, a flick of the eyes, the way they actually structure a story. Sometimes you get a turn of phrase or an image which surfaces suddenly almost from nowhere. I remember one woman I was talking to--I wasn't filming, just talking--and she was recounting something and suddenly she said, 'I saw them burn my sister, it was in front of me and my mother.' I asked her something about this; she answered and continued to talk about something else, and then a while later, the image burst through again and she repeated what she said.  This was a pretty strong example of what can happen, but one way or another things do break through, sometimes.  I think really one of he most important skills as a documentary filmmaker is to be someone that people feel they trust, someone who is truly interested in their story and is not judging them. Also I think it's important that if you are expecting people to open up to you, that you be prepared to answer whatever they want to ask you, so there isn't just a one-way power relationship. Although, of course, I am the filmmaker and I am filming them and will edit their material and they are not filming me etc.

3. Just as I was thinking about what might have become of the art center in which the post-production part of the residency takes place, considering the Syrian civil calamity in the second decade of this century, a scene came on in which Um Muhammad calls you toward an image she has on the computer of a cultural center that has since become the headquarters of a religious organization. The destruction of Iraq in the twenty-naughts seemed unprecedented to the region for an outside, concerned observer. Today, we have three or four “Iraqs” in the region. Millions of peoples’ lives have been ruined or lost and in the wake of ever expanding unrest cultural heritage and institutions have been assailed or neglected. How do you navigate this scene as a filmmaker? 

I carry it around inside me.  The devastation is something that affects me even if I've experienced it from a distance.  It is somehow very close.  I had a very strong feeling of this when I watched the coverage of the '91 Gulf War on TV in London. I felt like the country and its people (who were nowhere to be seen on the screen) were being erased from the face of the earth. And this country was where my family had its roots; it held a part of my personal history. I remembered sensual details--a certain bird's song, the light at a particular time of day... and Syria? One of my grandmothers was Syrian, from Aleppo, where I'd never been but about which I heard so much in my childhood.  So, I'm walking around with this sense of the catastrophic loss that people are carrying.  What catches my attention is to see what the counterweight to that might be. It's often a powerful coming together of people or the making of something in the face of all the 'unmaking' going on inside and outside them--creativity, in a wide sense of the word, as an act of resistance.  This is very much what I came to feel was going on in the film you saw about the Iraqi women's photographic project.

4. Have more women gone through a photo residency similar to the one depicted in Open Shutters? Beyond the nine photo stories noted near the end of the film, have any been produced since? What has become of the archive of images produced? What has become of the “ongoing project” as Irada al-Jabbouri characterized it to one of the participating women photographers?

There hasn't been another Open Shutters photo residency. The first one happened with Syrian women in Damascus before the one in the film, with the Iraqi women, but those are the only two.  No more photo stories have been produced from the Open Shutters Iraq project, but some of the women who participated in it have gone on taking pictures, like Raya Asee, who did the story about the bombing of Mutanabbi Street. She is also, as it happens, the production designer on my current fiction film project.  The archive of images is held in joint copyright between the the women photographers and Eugenie Dolberg, the photographer who ran the residency.  They are there for the women to use when they want to.  I think what Irada meant at the time by 'ongoing project' was the project of collaboration, sharing experiences across religions, ages, class backgrounds etc, and trying to make more work.  It has not really continued as a project as such, especially since many of the participants had to leave the country because of the security situation at the time (2006/7/8)

5. How do you feel about the film a decade after its release? How did it impact your work and life?

I went into the project with no idea about what it was going to be or how it would work.  It was a remarkable thing to be part of and I was part of it, in a double role as participant and observer. At the beginning when Eugenie said she was going to ask the women to do 'life maps' I couldn't really understand what she meant, and I said, 'If you think that women who come from different backgrounds and don't know each other are going to get up and present their life stories to each other, you're crazy.  Iraqis have lived for decades, not trusting each other, terrified to speak out.' Of course, I was completeIy wrong.  Eugenie created a circle of trust. No one else 'from outside' was there--just us. I feel very lucky to have been involved.

People were carrying all the burdens of past wars, sanctions, dictatorship and now a country being ripped apart by insane violence and this project was a process of, I wouldn't say 'healing', but rather maybe the beginning of repair.  On this project I met Irada Al Jabbouri , the Iraqi project manager, with whom I have gone on to co-write the script for my current fiction feature film, as well as working with Raya, as I said, as its production designer. And, of course, I formed a very close relationship to the little 6 year-old girl in the film, Dima, Irada's daughter, who gave me such an insight into how a child, or this particular child, might deal with what was happening all around her.  I learned a lot from her, including something about not drowning in sorrow and grief.  As she says at one point 'Everyday I laugh at I don't cry'.

6. What is on your plate these days? How can readers learn more about what you are doing?

I am working on fiction feature film. Its working title is “Another Day in Baghdad”  and in (Iraqi) Arabic  “Kulshi Makoo” 

The film is an ensemble piece, made up of intersecting stories unfolding over the last week of 2006, in Baghdad, a time of intense sectarian violence and nightly curfews. 

It's about the daily effort needed  to sustain a fragile hope in the face of unrelenting destruction; it’s about resistance and resilience.  There are a lot of characters, and many of them are strong female ones.  And aside from the harshness of the situation, there’s also a lot of humour, a certain lyricism and music in the film.

The script was partly developed from notes that my co-writer, Irada Al Jabbouri, a Baghdad-based Iraqi short story and novel writer, women's rights and civil society activist made in 2006/7, when she found herself unable to write one word of fiction, shocked by what was happening into silence. At home, at work, with friends or out on the streets, she found herself in the middle of telling, resonant, sometimes comic, scenes; people trying to live their lives in this extraordinary situation. She wrote it all down just as she saw and heard it.  She said to me “this is all I can do right now”. From this material, as well as my own gathering of real-life stories and, of course, our imagination and experience we pulled our characters and dialogue together.  

We will be shooting in 2018, but are still fundraising.

Luckily, we've received good support from European and some Middle Eastern funds, including winning the IWC Schaffhausen script prize at the Dubai Film Festival in 2012 (presented to us by Cate Blanchett)  but it's not enough, especially since much of the European money, the major part of the funding,  must be spent on European crew and post-production.    

So, to support the Iraqi crew and actors, who are coming from all over, and some of whom are refugees in Jordan where we will partly be shooting the film, we are running a crowd-funding campaign, at this link:

There is a lot of information about the film and the people involved and there will be regular updates and new stories and pieces of writing. Anyone who wants to donate can do that at this website.

Our social media accounts are: 


Twitter: @AnotherdayinB

We would really appreciate if people could help by forwarding the link to the crowdfunding site and our regular announcements and newsletters over the next weeks of the campaign, to anyone they think might be interested in the project and/or might be able to make a donation. People can also help by ‘liking’ our Facebook page and ‘following’ us on Twitter etc, and by sharing or commenting about campaign content on their own social media accounts.

Aside from the money raised for a specific purpose by crowd-funding, we also need further general production funding. If anyone is interested in talking to us about this, they can contact me through my website