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Baghdad slates film fest

Event marks area's first film fest since '05

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

Films will mainly be from Egypt, Jordan and Iran, according to Iraqi helmer Abdul Basit Salman, who is helping select pics for the event, organized by the Assn. of Iraqi Filmmakers Without Borders.

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 TV channels and some private production houses will be sending features, he said.

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

Since February 2006, when the bombing of a Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra unleashed sectarian violence, entertainment in Iraq has been reduced mainly to watching satellite TV 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 dropped sharply.

Prime minister Nuri al-Maliki said last week 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 fest organizers hope the event will spark a revival of cinemagoing.

A full fest lineup 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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