Last Screening in Paris
After a quick dash over the channel, we landed in Paris for the last leg of the FILM FORWARD programme. Unlike many of the screenings before, involving public audiences, this was to be a private screening for UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
Arriving in Paris is always breathtaking – with its rich, cosmopolitan culture and "magical" atmosphere. In light of its strong connections with European film heritage, the city felt like a wonderful place to conclude our FILM FORWARD journey. Weaving our way through the streets of Paris, we were eventually met by the dramatic sight of the UNESCO building – a landmark modernist construction that would not be out of place in a Kubrick film!
Our film Son of Babylon, based in Iraq, was to screen alongside Afghan Star, which examines life in Afghanistan. Both films are well placed to initiate dialogues about the experiences of those living through extended conflict in the Middle East. It was a delight to meet Havana Marking, Afghan Star director and compare and contrast our filmmaking experiences with her. Her film was to screen on the first night, and ours would follow the next evening.
An introduction to the moderator Ms. Khorshied Samad gave us chance to discuss the main message of Son of Babylon – the plight of Iraq 1m+ missing people and their families, before our screening. In actual fact it was incredibly well informed about the reality of Iraq’s mass graves. We were grateful that the post-screening discussion was to be lead by someone with expertise in the area, as we expected the UNESCO staff members to be very clued up!
After taking some time the next afternoon to explore Paris a little, we headed back to UNESCO for the screening. For Mohamed, it would be a reunion with the wonderful FILM FORWARD staff he’d met during the gala screenings in Washington DC. For Isabelle, it was a chance to meet some of the people she’d been corresponding with by email for so long!
Following the screening a great discussion began. We saw it as fantastic opportunity to open a direct and honest dialogue with UNESCO about whether the international community is doing enough to help missing people and their families in Iraq. Mohamed did not hold back with his questions "what does UNESCO mean in Iraq?", and "what are they doing to support culture in the country?". Our questions were met warmly, and the answers gave us reassurance that this dialogue would not just stop after the screening. We were asked what we felt the country needed, and there seemed to be a genuine will to improve the situation in Iraq.
The UNESCO screening, which really joined the dots between culture and the international community, fell at a poignant time for Son of Babylon and its associated campaign. Having spent the past year pushing for reform to missing person’s laws in Iraq through targeted screenings, we finally screened the film for Iraqi parliament on the 5th October. The screening prompted a call for review of the laws, and it feels as if real change is on the horizon for families of the missing.
We look back with pride on the social action journey that ‘Son of Babylon’ has undertaken, and our thankful that from the word go, FILM FORWARD has recognised its vital strength as a cultural tool with the ability to initiate profound and lasting change in the world.