I really hate to say this but this is the truth, there is no Iraq now.
From director Roxana Vilk and Al Jazeera’s Artscape: Poets of Protest series, here’s a short (25-minute) bio pic from 2012 featuring the Iraqi poet Manal Al-Sheikh and her life in exile with her two children in Norway. Interspersed throughout the film are a number of short poems treated filmpoem style, with the poet’s recitation in Arabic accompanied by on-screen English translation. Ian Dodds was the cameraman, and Ling Lee edited. Vilk has a mini essay accompanying the film on Vimeo that is worth reproducing in full:
FILMMAKER’S VIEW: Keeping the protest alive
By Roxana Vilk
I was really keen that we have an Iraqi poet in the Poets of Protest series. When I read Manal Al Sheikh’s fiery work I was immediately captivated, as she seemed to truly encapsulate the essence of a poet and activist combined.
As Manal says: “When you are a person from a country like Iraq you automatically have some anger inside you and this anger, if you are a poet or a writer, you can transfer it as an explosion in your text.”
Manal is originally from Nineveh in northern Iraq, one of the oldest and greatest cities in antiquity and a place renowned for its multi-cultural society. Since the 2003 invasion, Nineveh has been the scene of some of the bloodiest and most violent fighting.
“I witnessed everything, the bombing, the struggle between the parties, all these make you angry, so I protest with my text,” the poet explains.
However, Manal’s work as an outspoken poet and journalist in Iraq was fraught with danger and her life was constantly under threat. She had to make the heart-breaking decision to leave her country and her family and seek refuge with her two young children in Norway.
“For me as a female writer in Iraq, just being female it was of course a challenge; just to live there in a normal way with my thoughts and my ambitions for a future. But really I can say the main change in my life was becoming a single mother in that society. Suddenly I found myself a widow, a very young widow,” Manal reflects.
I travelled with Ian Dodds, the director of photography, to Stavanger in Norway in January 2012, during the depths of the Norwegian winter, as temperatures were plummeting to an unforgiving -20 degrees Celsius. Filming the stark contrast of the snowy cold white landscapes against Manal’s stories of Iraq made her struggle to have her voice heard all the more poignant.
At a time when it is dangerous to speak out in Iraq, especially as a woman, Manal had to travel half way around the world to keep her protest alive.
Our film follows Manal closely as she works through crafting a new poem, before presenting it to a public audience. Manal is a truly extraordinary poet, brave and defiant, at a time when Iraqi female voices are increasingly being silenced.
About the series:
Poets of Protest reflects the poet’s view of the change sweeping the Middle East and North Africa through its intimate profiles of six contemporary writers as they struggle to lead, to interpret and to inspire.
Poetry lives and breathes in the Middle East as in few other places.
There’s a real dearth of English-subtitled Arabic poetry recitation on the web; this goes a small way toward righting the balance. It’s interesting to see how poetry is chanted or sung in Arabic, rather than simply read (much less mumbled). Another thing that might be a little difficult for some of us to get our heads around is a poet becoming so popular that he could be branded an enemy of the state, and his works become a relying cry for people opposed to the established order. Such was the case with Nabeel Yasin, Iraq’s most celebrated poet (and last year, an unsuccessful candidate for prime minister), who has been compared to Bob Dylan in his impact on Iraqi society from the late 60s on.
“The Poet of Baghdad” was directed by Georgie Weedon for Al Jazeera, and has just been re-uploaded to YouTube as a single video. The blending of poetry recitation with reminiscence is very effective, I think, and the reflections on exile will probably resonate with emigrants, voluntary and involuntary, from many lands. Al Jazeera posted an interview with the director in early 2010.
Egyptian poet Yahia Lababidi, a Facebook contact, shared the text of his poem at The Idler just after I discovered that Al Jazeera has a cache of Creative Commons-licensed videos available for remix. So with Lababidi’s blessing I pulled this videopoem together, using some of that Egyptian street poetry for a soundtrack. I did the reading myself because he was having internet-connection problems and wasn’t able to send me his own reading.
Videos in the film/animation category at YouTube don’t seem to attract too many views, so I identified it as “News & Politics” instead. We’ll see if that makes a difference. In any case, it needs to be watched by people with an interest in the uprising.