Logline: A musical odyssey that uncovers the hidden – and almost erased – story of Iraqi music.
Current Status: Completed
Length: 79 min
Director: Marsha Emerman
Producer: Marsha Emerman
Looking for: Australian screenings, international distribution and media interest.
Ronin Films is our Australia/NZ non-theatrical distributor. http://www.roninfilms.com.au/video/0/360/12929.html
DVDs for Home Use Only can be purchased from:
Funders: Developed with the assistance of Film Victoria
Supported by: Australian Communities Foundation, Annamila Foundation, Besen Family Foundation, Finkel Foundation, Graham Smith Peace Foundation, Harold Mitchell Foundation, Search Foundation, Shark Island Documentary Fund, Victorian Multicultural Commission
Made in association with: Creative Partnerships Australia, Documentary Australia Foundation, San Francisco Film Society
Where can I watch it:
Visit http://www.fruitfulfilms.com.au/films/tigris for screenings and sales information
Why did you make this film?
Making this film was a 10-year process that began when I met Majid Shokor in 2004. We shared a love for music and belief in the power of arts and culture as a tool for change.
Majid’s love for music dates back to his childhood in Baghdad, where music and songs were part of daily life. Growing up in the 1960s-70s, when most Iraqi Jews had already fled, he heard only that Jews were the ‘enemy’. In 1995, he and his family were also forced to flee. Outside Iraq, he discovered that Iraqi-Jewish composers and musicians had played a pivotal role in creating the music and songs he loved. Majid felt that this hidden history needed to be investigated and told.
This story was new to me, but its themes – cultural identity, exile and displacement, peace and reconciliation – had long been part of my life and work. In 1991, in response to the first Gulf War, I organised a multi-faith peace concert. My previous film Children of the Crocodile highlighted the importance of cultural identity for East Timorese who were forced to flee their homeland.
So we began a collaboration. Majid was the film’s co-writer, researcher, translator and lead ‘character’. I was producer/director with the daunting task of finding the funds and the narrative thread to tell the story.
I made this film in the hope it would move people, teach them something new, and challenge pre-conceived ideas. I particularly wanted to challenge the false dichotomy of Jews vs. Arabs, a notion that perpetuates conflict and denies the importance of shared history and cultural identity.
Why is the film called On the Banks of the Tigris: the hidden story of Iraqi music?
The Tigris River, which flows through Baghdad, is linked to music and evokes fond memories for Iraqis. Music was once played in the teahouses and crowded cafes on nearby streets. One famous song, On the Banks of the Tigris, recalls the special beauty of the river – at dawn and dusk. The film begins with this song, introducing us to Majid and his journey to uncover the hidden story of Iraqi music.
On the Banks of the Tigris won Best Documentary at the Baghdad International Film Festival. Can you tell us about this film festival?
The Baghdad International Film Festival (BIFF) screens films of all genres from around the world. Now in its 12th year, it’s run by an independent NGO, the Iraqi Association for Culture & Cinema Development. Its existence, despite the difficulties posed by years of occupation and violence, shows the stamina of Iraqis, their love for art and culture, and their craving for peace and stability.
The festival aims “to support a new cinema in Iraq”. Films are shown in 6 competition sections, accompanied by workshops, exhibitions and discussions.
In 2015 On the Banks of the Tigris was among 84 films from 40 countries shown at BIFF. We were very honoured when our film won Best Documentary, affirming the appreciation of Iraqis for this story of music, peace and reconciliation.
What type of feedback have you received so far about the film?
Feedback from the media, film industry, and audiences around the world has been very positive.
The film has screened in a dozen film festivals, as well as music events and community venues. Viewers in Montreal, Washington, Boston, New York, LA, San Francisco, London, Cambridge, Stockholm and St. Petersburg have sent emails of congratulations: “A wonderful story, told through music and heart”. “Truly inspirational – a film to give hope in a world where too often there seems little”.
In Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and regional Australian cities there were sold-out cinema shows including a three-week run at Lido Cinema. We attended many shows and experienced audience reactions first-hand – laughter, tears, applause, and animated Q&A sessions.
Reviewers have also praised the film: “Beautifully filmed and paced, with a rich array of personalities and music”, said ABC Radio National. “A moving and intimately human portrait of the lost story of Iraqi music” according to the Middle East Monitor and “An extraordinary story of cultural resilience and identity” in The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/on-the-banks-of-the-tigris-a-documentary-that-traces-the-forgotten-history-of-iraqi-music-47260
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
We expected the film would be well received by people who value world music, cultural preservation, human rights, and peace building. It’s also striking a chord with wider audiences.
Media coverage of Iraq and the Middle East is almost exclusively focused on conflict. Our film tells a different story. It reveals Iraq’s rich cultural heritage and presents Baghdad as a cosmopolitan city where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together for thousands of years. It shows how Iraqis of all faiths share a common love for their culture and homeland.
“There was cultural and political oppression. Iraqi Jews were oppressed and so was I. This is our connection. And also we all love Baghdad deeply”, says oud player Ahmed Mukhtar in the film.
People read films through the prism of their own ideologies. While our film is about Iraqi music, not Middle East politics, it can still get caught in the maelstrom. So we’re not surprised that there have been critical, or even hostile reactions, from a few people.
But overall, the film is winning approval and awards, including Best Documentary at the Baghdad International Film Festival and Audience Choice at the Arab Film Festival, San Francisco.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
We are looking for more screenings around Australia and distribution and sales opportunities worldwide. Ronin Films is handling Australia/NZ non-theatrical and educational. We do not yet have an international agent or distributor.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message and audience?
Same as above, no further comments.
What type of impact would you like this film to have?
On the Banks of the Tigris has always been a film and peace education project. Though screenings, websites, print and radio interviews, social media, public talks, and a study guide for schools, we’re using our film to build bridges between communities and show how culture can unite people across religious and political boundaries.
Our goals are to:
· increase understanding of Iraq and the Middle East
· challenge stereotypes
· promote dialogue and discussion
· contribute to community harmony and inter-faith peace
By showing our film to diverse audiences in diverse contexts, it is having an impact. The study guide will enable teachers to use the film more effectively in classrooms. As a Finalist – Best Documentary, Social and Political Issues in the ATOM Awards, the film has been recognised for both its artistic and educational value.
Lastly, what’s a key question that will help spark a debate about this issue and film?
Violence, conflict, xenophobia, and religious animosity dominate news headlines about Iraq and much of the world today. What other stories are not told and who decides what we see, hear and read? Does a film about shared music, cultural identity and peace-making have a role to play in changing perceptions and creating a more harmonious future?