Af’a Gilgamesh / Gilgamesh’s Snake (excerpt) by Ghareeb Iskander

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A great poetry film by Roxana Vilk, combining videopoem (with an English translation in subtitles by John Glenday) and a brief explanation of the poem by its author, Iraqi poet Ghareeb Iskander. This combination is one Vilk has used to good effect in other films, too, but for some reason I missed this one until now, when I spotted it thanks to its inclusion in the ZEBRA Poetry Film Club channel on Vimeo. The unusually complete Vimeo description includes Vilk’s description of her process, so let me reproduce it in full:

This film is a result of a commission from Reel Festivals as part of Reel Iraq 2013 and funded by Literature Across Frontiers and the British Council.

Based on a poem by Ghareeb Iskander, Directed/Produced & filmed by Roxana Vilk, Edited by Maryam Ghorbankarimi and Sound Design & Music Peter Vilk, Poem translation by John Glenday, bridging translation by Lauren Pyott and Assistant Director James Sadri.

In January 2013 I was invited to create films inspired by poets and poems I encountered from both Iraq and Scotland as part of the Reel Iraq festival in Erbil. It was an incredible trip and an honour to work with Reel Festivals again.

I first heard Ghareeb Iskander’s poem, during a magical evening in the mountain village of Shaqlawa when the poets were sharing the fruits of the first days of translating each others works over a glass of wine.. or two….

As John Glenday read out in English his translation of Ghareeb’s poem, I was immediately struck by the imagery in it and how the sentiment resonated with how I felt on coming to Iraq for the first time – a mixture of feeling the weight of the history mixed with an aching sense of loss.

I should also add at this point that the poem in the film is an extract of a much longer work (in three acts) on Gilgamesh.

Image wise I was drawn to empty sites across Erbil. First of all the many building sites that lay scattered across much of the city and how they had this haunted quality – almost like abandoned old theatres.

I was also drawn to filming in the empty ancient Citadel in the centre of Erbil which dates back over 3,000 years and had 3 years ago been emptied of its inhabitants to be preserved as a UNESCO site.

Both these locations resonated with the emotional landscape in Ghareeb’s poem for me and also lent visual space to house the images he was creating in the language.

It was pouring with torrential rain for most of our trip which seemed fitting in some way with the sound world of Ghareeb’s poem and one morning I asked him to walk through an empty building site, reciting his poem in his mind, as the rain dripped loudly on the floor of the empty site.

In terms of colour I wanted to reflect back Erbil exactly as I encountered it in January – devoid of much colour and somehow the locations had a monochromatic feel. So our ever sharp eyed editor Maryam Ghorbankarimi and I worked together strip the images back of colour and then use just touches of colour to create contrast.

Sound designer and composer Peter Vilk used the found real location sounds I had recorded Iraq ( such as the rain) which he then treated and manipulated with his software to create his sound design score, alongside a melody he wrote on the piano.

For those interested in technicals – I filmed on a Canon 7D and captured separate sound on a Zoom stereo Mic, synching the sound later in the edit.

Commissioned by Reel Festivals as part of their Iraq Project 2013 and funded by Literature Across Frontiers and the British Council.

For more of Roxana film works please visit roxanavilk.com

Iskander explained the two-step English translation process in an interview at Arabic Literature (in English).

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