Ten years ago the world witnessed massive protests against the US and UK-led invasion of Iraq, with up to sixty countries standing in solidarity with the Iraqi people. In London alone, over a million marched, the largest ever demonstration to take place in the UK, with similar marches organized in Belfast and Edinburgh. The protests failed to deter military action, but support for the Iraqis continues to this day.
Reel Iraq, a festival celebrating the contribution of art, culture and creativity to Iraqi life in a time of conflict, with over fifty events taking place across nine cities in the UK, offers a real opportunity to open up a dialogue between Iraqis and those living in the United Kingdom. “Iraq has become some sort of mythologized place,” says Dan Gorman, director of Reel Iraq. He hopes to present something more real through the events:
With this festival, we hope to make a very real connection between the two countries, by opening up channels of communication and presenting the opportunity to interact directly with the musicians, poets, storytellers, artists and filmmakers who have created work under the most horrific of circumstances.
Iraq is considered to be the cradle of civilization, formerly known as Mesopotamia and home to the first ancient civilizations such as the Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians. The country boasts an extraordinary cultural history. Despite decades of international and civil war, untold suffering and oppression, the people of Iraq have continued to nurture their creativity and, having persevered through adversity, are still producing incredible pieces of music, art, film and literature.
Seven artists are traveling over from Iraq, and many more from the award-winning diaspora are making their way to the UK for the five-day festival. The program across the three main themes of music, poetry and film is thrown wide open, with plenty of opportunity for audience participation in panel discussions and other events.
Lord Erragal is one of the Baghdad-based musicians who will be performing in London and Edinburgh. He will be showcasing pieces from his Kurgal work; ethereal, ambient soundscapes and haunting vocals which conjures up the great days of Sumer and Babylon. Despite being prevented from performing publicly in much of Iraq (his music is considered irreligious and blasphemous by some), Lord Erragal continues to make music at home and is thrilled at the chance to share his compositions with a new audience, “My music is heavily influenced by folklore and the golden age of humanity in Mesopotamia,” he tells The Majalla, “I feel I have to dedicate something to this ancient era and show how there is so much more to Iraq than the dark, gloomy, destructive reputation it has. We are not a country based on terror and ignorance, there is beauty and cultural depth within.”
The launch event took place yesterday at the Rich Mix in London’s East End. Middle East specialist Hugh Sykes, a BBC journalist and broadcaster, was there to introduce the Q&A with the director of The Dreams of Sparrows, Haydar Daffa. Other artists taking part over the five days include Maysoon Pachachi, an award-winning filmmaker, Leila Albayaty, an Iraqi-French musician and filmmaker who currently lives in Berlin, will be performing songs from her first feature film and album Berlin Telegram, UK based Iraqi oud (lute) player Khyam Allami, plus a host of poets from Iraq and the UK will be working on the translation of each others poems. “It is a rare treat and a real pleasure to be able to engage with each and every one of these talented, brave people,” says Dan Gorman, “and I really hope people nationwide will take advantage of this fantastic opportunity.”
Reel Iraq is taking place 21-25 March in venues across Bristol, Derry, Dumfries, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Newcastle and Stirling. Complete listings and more information about the festival can be found at www.reelfestivals.org.