The Iraqi-made film, Al-Rihla, debuted in Baghdad at of the month. Al-Rihla, or The Journey in English, has been screened in theatres and festivals worldwide since its debut at the Toronto Film Festival in 2017. However, its screening in Iraq this spring brings both a poignant reminder of the continuing impact of the 2003 Anglo-American invasion and a symbol of hope for the nation and its movie industry.
Al-Rihla is a psychological drama set in 2006. It follows the story of Sara, a young woman, who struggles to carry out a suicide bomb mission in the Baghdad train station. The movies delves into questions of extremism and identity, but most importantly, attempts to depict life in Iraq following the 2003 invasion.
According to Al Jazeera, the country has historically been home to a blossoming film industry that regularly screened domestic and international movies to large audiences. However, the industry, along with most cultural production in the country, was silenced by Saddam Hussein’s crackdown on the media and later the eight-year American occupation. Al-Rihla brings to light the deep impact of that invasion, in both the plot of the film, and the landmark circumstances of its domestic release; it is the first Iraqi-made movie to be created in over 25 years.
By itself, the film provides an important cultural insight into the social wellbeing of the country. Its release represents hope for the future return of the Iraqi movie industry as well as other domestic arts and leisure. As a potential first in a series of films, Al-Rihla marks the beginning of artistic reactions to the vast consequences of the American occupation. It is a first key Iraqi insight into the recovery of a society subjected to vast and dire human rights violations, by both its former leader, Saddam Hussein, and foreign powers.
Al-Monitor reported on how this film intentionally aimed to start this trend and encourage the proliferation of Iraqi movies that promote serious conversations about society. Al-Rihla was released with a campaign to reach 1 million viewers, conveying a cultural message that aims to intellectually tackle extremism and terrorism. Whether it be extremism or another relevant cultural topic, the release of Al-Rihla marks the beginning of an important trend in global film, and in Iraqi society.
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