A search for a lost tune becomes a reflection on loss

It will be 10 years ago this month that Iraq was invaded by US-led troops, and a festival in UK is taking the opportunity to celebrate the country's cultural life, and look at how it has been shaped by the conflict.

Parine Jaddo on the set of her film Broken Record. Courtesy Parine Jaddo
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A festival in the UK is taking the opportunity to celebrate Iraq's cultural life and look at how it has been shaped by conflict. Reel Iraq consists of more than 50 events - screenings, concerts, exhibitions, talks - across nine cities. One of the highlights will be preview screenings of Broken Record, a film that was funded by the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, and which will get an official release later in the year. The film charts the search of the writer-director Parine Jaddo, an Iraqi living in Lebanon, for an old Turkmen song that her mother sang a half-century ago, and develops into a meditation on both personal loss and the changing face of Iraq. From Beirut, Jaddo explains what started her on this journey.

How did the film come about?

It started when my mother was fighting cancer and I was taking care of her. My mother was what connected me to my Turkmen culture, so when I was losing her I felt that I was losing that. After she left, I found myself thinking about some of the things I wanted to retrieve and one of them was this song. My mother was a teacher but she sang as an amateur with her brothers, and the song was recorded in 1960. So I had this yearning to go back and find it. I could not remember the words fully, but I went back to my mother's hometown, Kirkuk, and started to look for it.

How did it feel to be there?

I didn't know too many Turkmens abroad, so to be in a city in which people were speaking the language was a real high point for me. But when I started to realise how much of the culture was lost and gone, that's when I felt how big that loss is. A whole musical culture, all the archives, had been burnt or lost.

What surprises did you encounter?

My biggest surprise was to find Iraq in such a bad state. The infrastructure is completely shattered: no electricity, sewers flowing onto the streets. How can this very rich country, which is supposed to have oil reserves that can surpass those of Saudi Arabia, be in this situation? Electricity came on for two hours a day altogether. That's unacceptable for a country like that. The second shock was that I found cities mostly divided between Sunni and Shia neighbourhoods. It was an Iraq that was way, way behind the Iraq that I had left.

Were there moments of optimism?

When I went to the academy of music, I saw this spirit of resistance in the musicians. Despite the huge loss that they've had, they are still every day trying to play their music. For many of these youngsters, music was a way of finding some peaceful space in that violent environment, because every day there are explosions. You sit in your home and hear shooting, you hear helicopters hovering over your head. That was very touching – and promising.

Is it important to be part of Reel Iraq and to be marking this date?

Absolutely. Not having access to show this film in my country right now, I felt that to show it on this 10-year commemoration would be important because it's part of this culture of resistance. I hope that things will get better and I will be able to screen it in Iraq, but right now I don't know if the situation will allow it.

Will it be touring to other festivals?

I just finished it. I was rushing to put something out to meet the Reel Iraq deadline. I'm still doing a few tweaks, so we'll see. I've applied to the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. I will apply to Doha Tribeca and the Dubai Film Festival as well as festivals in Europe, the US and Canada, so hopefully something will happen.

Do you have plans for another film?

You know, this is the first real feature in Turkmen. It's been really wonderful for me to work in my mother tongue and the experience was so wonderful that I think I would like to shoot another film in Iraq, despite all the difficulties. Instantly, if I had the funding, I would go for it.

Reel Iraq takes place in the UK from today until Monday. Visit www.reelfestivals.org. UK preview screenings of Broken Record are in Edinburgh and Newcastle on Thursday and at London Rich Mix on Saturday

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