LONDON — Iraqi director Oday Rasheed has taken the term guerrilla filmmaking to a whole new level.
Filming “Under Exposure,” the first feature to come out of Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Rasheed and his crew are working on no budget and shooting on 20-year-old film stock. And there’s the ongoing impediment of daily explosions, military skirmishes and terrorist strikes.
“After we finished the first shot of the first day of filming, a huge explosion near our location almost blew our set away,” Rasheed says. “We are making a film and trying to stay alive at the same time.”
The film tells the story of a musician battling cancer, a young filmmaker and a dead soldier wandering what he describes as “the puzzled streets of a magical city.”
Pic’s events begin with the U.S.-led invasion in April and take the viewer to the present day.
For the director, the film is very much a love letter to his hometown: “The film is offering a vision and poetic expression to Baghdad and its wounds.”
With the cast and crew all working for free, Rasheed began filming in October.
“The existence of a camera crew in the streets of Baghdad is kind of dangerous,” he admits, but he is confident he will complete his film. He’s even hopeful of showing the feature at next year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Not all of his problems are linked to the continuing military actions within the country. With film stock scarce in Baghdad, there’s no room for method acting or multiple takes. “The amount of negative film we have is relatively small. Our take rate is 1:2; it can’t really be a negative ratio, can it? Maybe 2:1, which pretty much obliges us to make no mistakes!”
He has found a friend in the Kodak Co., which offered to develop negatives for free in Beirut once lensing is finished.
Iraq’s only film company, Babel, has lent its old equipment in return for a cut of the profits of the film.
“That’s if there are any,” the director quips.
For Rasheed, the film is not just a personal artistic expression, but an important symbol of the Iraqi people’s re-emergence following 35 years of life under a brutal regime.
As he sees it, “Cinema is a kind of opposition to the death that became common on the city’s map.”
He is no stranger himself to the tyrannical methods of the old regime.
He shot 4,800 feet of a docu on life in Baghdad at the beginning of the year, only to see it burned by authorities when they learned of the work.