But with its red carpet, half a dozen television crews circling like paparazzi and a roster of 58 films, the Baghdad International Film Festival is rolling on this week to a largely hipster Iraqi crowd enjoying its rare moment in the spotlight.
Organizers said they expect more than 1,000 movie fans, actors, directors and crew members to stop by the Palestine Hotel-turned-movie theater for the festival, the second since its inception in 2005.
The event marks a major departure from cinema during the era of Saddam Hussein, when independent moviemaking came to a standstill and 35-millimeter film stock was banned under international sanctions. The only locally produced movies then were government-sponsored. At the same time, there were more than a dozen theaters that featured family-friendly foreign films. Most have been bombed or closed since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that drove Hussein from power; only three remain, screening B-grade action movies or skin flicks.
“The cinemas in Iraq have vanished; it is crippled,” said Malik Magtouf, 22, a student at Baghdad’s Institute of Management. Although security concerns remain high, the event this week is a hopeful sign for Iraq’s young artists, including twentysomething guys sporting “fauxhawks” and women with uncovered heads in makeup and trendy jeans.
“When you watch and you hear the clicking sound of the movie projector, then you will feel that life has come back to Iraq,” said Yahya Allaq, 27, assistant director of “Ahlaam,” a film about the lives of three Iraqis during the Hussein regime.