Event to run Dec. 16-19

BAGHDAD — After two long years of cinematic drought, movie lovers in the war-ravaged Iraqi capital will at last be treated to a feast of Arabic and Iranian films when the Baghdad International Film Festival is staged Dec. 16 to 19.

Films for the fest will mainly be submitted from Egypt, Jordan and Iran, according to Iraqi helmer Dr. Abdul Basit Salman.

Egypt plans to send 27 films, most of them shorts made by students at the High Institution for Cinema, although the country’s two main television channels and some private production houses will be sending in features, he said.

The last time a film festival was held in Baghdad was in September 2005 when 58 locally made short films were screened before thronging crowds over six days in a Baghdad hotel.

Since February 2006, when the bombing of a Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra unleashed hideous sectarian violence, which has killed thousands of Iraqis, entertainment in Iraq has been reduced mainly to watching satellite television at home.

But with a U.S. troop “surge” since February and a better trained Iraqi army putting militants to flight, violence in Baghdad has been sharply reduced.

Prime minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Sunday that car bombs and roadside bombings across Iraq had dropped by 77% compared to levels prior to February when U.S. and Iraqi launched a drive to clear Baghdad and its surrounding belts of militias and insurgents.

Most cinemas remain closed, however, and the Association of Iraqi Filmmakers Without Borders, which is organizing the fest, is hoping the plethora of films that will be available will spark a revival of cinemagoing.

A full lineup for the festival is yet to be announced.

Iraq’s film industry dates back to the 1940s, reaching a peak of popularity during the 70s and 80s, when going to the cinema became a weekly family treat.

U.N. economic sanctions that followed the 1991 Gulf War saw the country isolated and theaters went into decline.

The 2003 U.S.-led invasion to topple dictator Saddam Hussein sparked violence and turmoil that saw cinemas burned and attacked.

Only a few still keep their doors open for an ever-dwindling audience.

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