An Interview with Iraqi Filmmaker Kassem Hawal
Iraqi Heart, Dutch Passport
by Mohammad Reza Fartousi
Iraqi film director and actor Kassem Hawal, 71, is one of the pioneers of his country’s cinema. Hawal, who now lives in the Netherlands, has made several feature films and documentaries and has won many awards. He has been a member of the jury at film festivals in Moscow, Rotterdam, Bologna and the Arab Film Festival of Paris. He is also one a founder of the Association of Arab Documentary Filmmakers. He has written a number of books on cinema as well as several plays and novels and his works have been the subject of a number of scholarly dissertations. The concerns he has expressed in this interview might be the outcome of years of uncertainty as a result of living in exile as he comes from a country that has been experiencing instability although it was once the cradle of civilization. Apart from his frankness, he is sort of oral history of Iraq’s cinema.
Film International: Let’s start from the movies. How is the current situation of the Iraqi cinema?
Kassem Hawal: The current cinema of Iraq is in a complicated situation. There are efforts made here and there, but there are no proper infrastructures. Those interested in the movies do their best and make a few films but cinema cannot show its intellectual, artistic and aesthetic value without an industrial, economic and commercial infrastructure. How can you make films without light and electricity? Most of the artists have emigrated. There are religious institutions that do not believe in a form of cinema that would show reality as it is. Cinema cannot grow as long as there are these restrictions. From the perspective of culture and civilization cinema is a progressive form of art. I do not believe in a cinema that would be overshadowed by religious institutions that rule over Iraq. It is not only religious institutions but there are paramilitary forces that want to make Iraq devoid of artists.
FI: But cinema lives on in Iran although there is a religious government and the status of this cinema is in no way comparable to the one that existed before the Islamic Revolution!
KH: I respect Iranian cinema and its filmmakers, but there are restrictions in Iranian cinema. Of course, there are lights of freedom too. I have travelled to Iran several times and handed over the screenplay of Imam Hossein, the third Shiite imam which I wrote under the supervision of Imam Mohammad Mahdi Shamseddin. I met with the officials of the Culture Ministry and Farabi Cinema Foundation. They welcomed the idea but when it came to practical measures, they stopped it. I don’t think Iranians would agree that an Iraqi director could make a film on Imam Hossein in Iran. This is one of my criticisms of Iranian officials and their policy and taste. This was before the fall of Saddam’s dictatorship. We Iraqi filmmakers are often living outside our homeland and no one supports us. Most of the talks and claims are propaganda and reality is absolutely different...
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2011, Film International
Quarterly Magazine (ISSN 1021-6510)
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Printed in Tehran
Publishing Date Summer 2011
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