Baghdad Messi

Famed Iraqi film draws sparse crowds despite festival acclaim

BASRA – Iraqi film “Baghdad Messi” was screened at Shnashel Mall Cinema in Basra to a nearly empty theater, with a mere five attendees, despite the movie’s recognition at both local and international film festivals. Director Siham Omar cited the lack of effective marketing as the main reason for the low turnout, prompting a significant conversation about the issue within Basra’s film community on social media platforms.

Siham Omar, the film’s director, discussed the obstacles Iraqi cinema faces in attracting box office success with 964media, pinpointing insufficient marketing and promotion as key issues. “I was even unaware of the film’s showing in Basra, having assumed it would be limited to Baghdad,” Omar said.

Mohammed Hussein, one of the few who saw the film, was taken aback by the sparse audience despite the movie’s powerful narrative and emotional depth. “The film is exceptional, bringing us to tears by its conclusion. It stands up to international productions, and I hope Iraqis will begin to value their own cinema more. The emerging talent and production quality have significantly improved; it’s my hope that larger audiences will start attending Iraqi films,” Hussein commented.

“Baghdad Messi” follows the story of Hamoudi, an eleven-year-old boy in Baghdad who is a fervent admirer of Lionel Messi. Despite losing a leg in a terrorist attack, Hamoudi’s passion for football remains undiminished. The film delves into his determination to continue playing football, alongside his family’s struggles to secure a stable future and his father’s guilt-driven efforts to enable his son to play again.

Directed by Belgian-Iraqi Kurdish filmmaker Sahim Omar Kalifa, the film is a Belgium, Netherlands, and Iraq co-production, featuring a narrative of unfulfilled dreams, determination, loyalty, and family struggles within the context of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq and the decay in social order following 2003’s invasion.

A feature-length adaptation of the 2012 short film by the same name (also directed by Kalifa), it has been recognized at international film festivals, including the Ajyal Film Festival and the Lux Film Festival.

Bahaa Al-Kazimi, a filmmaker, observed that Iraqi films, including feature-length projects, tend to stay within the film festival circuit, which leads to their commercial underperformance, regardless of their critical acclaim. “The momentum for cinematic production in the country is nearly at a standstill. Countries with flourishing film industries possess distinct cinematic identities, such as Egypt, Iran, Turkey, the Kurdish regions, and, more recently, Morocco. In contrast, Iraq and other Arab nations lack a distinctive cinematic identity, partly because of the absence of specialized production and distribution companies,” Al-Kazimi said.

Abdul-Khaliq Karim, a screenwriter and playwright, spoke on the crucial role of cinema as a form of public art. “A cinema without an audience and ticket sales is merely an illusion. Art that lacks an audience is essentially buried. Cinema is intended for the general public, and restricting a film’s showing to festivals and private screenings certainly doesn’t align with the core essence of cinema because it removes the aspect of public engagement, undermining the purpose of cinema,” Karim noted.

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