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The first Independent Iraqi Film Festival launches online | News



The first edition of the Independent Iraqi Film Festival (IIFF) featuring Iraqi movie-makers kicks off on Friday and runs for a week. Thirteen films will be streamed online on its website free of charge.

The festival opens with a documentary by prominent director Mohammed al-Daradji, Iraq: War, Love, God and Madness (2008), which tells the story of the ordeal he went through while shooting his film Ahlaam (2005) in Baghdad, just months after the US invasion of Iraq.

The only non-virtual event in the festival programme will take place at Curzon Soho cinema in London, where the feature film Baghdad in My Shadow (2019) of Swiss-Iraqi director Samir will be screened on the closing night.

“This year, due to the virus, we are all in really difficult situation as filmmakers. The cinemas are closed, the festivals are closed. It was a really wonderful opportunity to show my film in this online festival,” Samir, who only goes by his first name, told Al Jazeera. “Doing a special event in London is a relief for me as a filmmaker.”

The festival selection includes short and feature-length fiction films and documentaries by established and emerging Iraqi directors based in Iraq and the diaspora. The programme has two strands of short films dedicated to new-wave filmmaking and to contemporary feminism in Iraqi cinema.

‘Operating independently’

The festival is an independent initiative by four Iraqis living in the diaspora: Ahmed al-Habib, founder of the shakomakonet digital platform; Israa al-Kamali, an Iraqi writer and poet; Shahnaz Dulaimy, a feature-film editor; and Roisin Tapponi, an editor, curator and founder of the Habibi collective.

The organisers say they refused funding from various establishments and did not seek affiliations with private or public institutions in order to retain full creative freedom.

“There is a huge benefit in operating independently. If you work with institutions in the region, you become prone to their politics and that can extend to geoblocking or censorship,” Tapponi told Al Jazeera.

According to the organisers, the film festival is meant to help develop the identity of the emerging post-2003 Iraqi cinema, give platforms to Iraqi filmmakers, and break stereotypes.

“[There is] a lot of misrepresentation of Iraqis in media and film, and even in the region by Arab filmmakers. It could be [because of] lack of research and sometimes it could be [because of] stereotypes and racism,” al-Kamali told Al Jazeera.

“I think that is what is great about this festival, we are bringing [two] groups: people in Iraq, telling stories about Iraq, their experiences in Iraq, as well as people in the diaspora.”

A still from She Was Not Alone (2020) by director Hussein al-Asadi [Courtesy of IIFF]

Making films in Iraq

One of the young filmmakers featured in the festival is 23-year-old Hussein al-Asadi, who lives and works in Iraq. Al-Asadi said he had to quit school in order to work for a living because of the difficult economic situation in his country.

He got into filmmaking at the age of 17, helping out with various local film projects. In 2019, he directed his first short film, Eye of the Mountain, and earlier this year, he completed She Was Not Alone, which will be featured at the festival.

She Was Not Alone tells the story of an elderly woman who lives by herself in the marshes of the Tigris and Euphrates River deltas. She is part of the “Marsh Arabs” community, whose culture and livelihood are tightly linked to the unique ecosystem of Iraq’s wetlands.

“My dream is to make films that express the suffering of my people so that the world knows how we Iraqis live,” al-Asadi told Al Jazeera.

Although he has a passion for filmmaking, he said it is a difficult profession to pursue in Iraq.

“The biggest problems I have faced are related to production and financial support,” he said. Like other Iraqi filmmakers, he said he has not benefitted from state funds allocated to film production, which disappear because of bureaucratic corruption. In order to support himself and fund his filmmaking, he has had to go into advertising.

Conservative currents in Iraqi society and the insecurity in the country have also affected him as an artist. The southern Iraqi city of Basra, where al-Asadi is based, has seen a number of recent assassinations.

On Wednesday, Reham Yaqoub, a prominent activist, women’s rights advocate and doctor, was shot. The same day, another activist, Falah al-Hasnawi, who has participated in anti-government protests, was also assassinated along with his fianacee.

“Social pressure accompanied by the security chaos result in harsh censorship on creativity. Just having ideas and opinions that are different than those of the general public puts us, artists, at constant risk. We constantly feel unsafe,” al-Asadi said.

He hopes the IIFF will open the door for the younger generation of Iraqi filmmakers he is part of to wider audiences and attract more support for Iraq’s film industry. 

Follow Mariya Petkova on Twitter: @mkpetkova

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FDC activists win Bank of Uganda pig case by simply keeping quiet




FDC activists Augustine Ojobile and Robert Mayanja

Buganda Road Magistrate’s court has acquitted two opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) activists Augustine Ojobile and Robert Mayanja of common nuisance charges.

FDC deputy chief administrative officer Ojobile and Mayanja have been acquitted by the grade one magistrate Fidelis Otwao on charges stemming from their protest held in November 2018 when they carried pig heads to the central police station (CPS) in Kampala protesting the rot in the Bank of Uganda that had reportedly resulted into the closure of a number of commercial banks in the country for many years.

According to them, corruption at the Central bank had been the sole ingredient for the closure of commercial banks in Uganda over the years because it reportedly mismanaged them and made erroneous decisions that led to their closure.

With fresh pig heads tied around their necks and stinking blood oozing across their white T-shirts, Mayanja and Ojobile walked through the streets of Kampala to the police in a protest that was spearheaded by their pressure group known as the Jobless Youth.

One pig head had a placard bearing the name of the former and late BOU governor Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile and the other of his former deputy Louis Kasekende.

The protest at CPS came a few days after another that was staged at the Central bank where two piglets were dumped bearing the name of Juma Kisaame (a Muslim), the former managing director of DFCU bank. 

As a result, the duo was arrested and taken to Buganda Road court on charges of common nuisance and the prosecution adduced evidence from five witnesses who included police officers and Muslims who were reportedly angered by the protest.

According to the witnesses, the actions of Mayanja and Ojobile were annoying to the people whose names were mentioned and tagged on pig heads, and the smell that was coming out of the fresh pig heads was most likely to result in injury to a considerable number of the public by affecting their health, and the protest affected businesses since some shops allegedly had to close to see what was happening outside due to their commotion.

But when Mayanja and Ojobile were asked to defend themselves over the allegations, the duo that didn’t have legal representation chose to keep quiet as their defense and let the court make its decision based on what the prosecution witnesses had testified to.

In a judgement read today Friday by Otwao, he indicated that the evidence from the prosecution witnesses is wanting because none of the people alleged to have been annoyed by the actions of the activists testified in the case or recorded a statement with police.

According to Otwao, the testimonies were based on what the witnesses were feeling as individuals and that there were no abusive statements on the pig heads that the prosecution had indicated which would cause annoyance, save for putting the names of people only. 

As such, the court has ruled that such testimonies cannot be relied on to convict a person because the prosecution has failed to prove that there was common injury, danger to the public or destruction of property.

Consequently, the magistrate has acquitted the duo and directed that each of them starts the process to seek a refund of the Shs 500,000 that each had paid to be released on bail.

The activists have welcomed the ruling saying that the court has recognized that the citizens have a right to protest peacefully.

The pig protests have been commonly used by activists who subscribe to this group known as the Jobless Brotherhood which has since rebranded to the “Alternative”.

In 2016, their members including Luta Ferdinand who is now facing trial in the court-martial on different charges, and Joseph Lukwago were arrested for dumping piglets at parliament protesting the Shs 200 million given to each MP for buying personal cars.

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Saudi Arabia executes 81 people in a single day | Death Penalty News




The death penalty applied for a range of charges in the largest known mass execution carried out in the kingdom’s modern history.

Saudi Arabia has executed 81 men over the past 24 hours, including seven Yemenis and one Syrian national, on charges including “allegiance to foreign terrorist organisations” and holding “deviant beliefs”, state news agency Saudi Press Agency said, in the largest known mass execution carried out in the kingdom in its modern history.

The number dwarfed the 67 executions reported in the kingdom in 2021 and the 27 in 2020.

“These individuals … were convicted of various crimes including murdering innocent men, women and children,” SPA said on Saturday, citing a statement from the interior ministry.

“Crimes committed by these individuals also include pledging allegiance to foreign terrorist organisations, such as ISIS [ISIL], al-Qaeda and the Houthis,” it added.

Some travelled to conflict zones to join “terrorist organisations”, according to the SPA.

“The accused were provided with the right to an attorney and were guaranteed their full rights under Saudi law during the judicial process,” it said.

“The kingdom will continue to take a strict and unwavering stance against terrorism and extremist ideologies that threaten the stability of the entire world,” the report added.

The men included 37 Saudi nationals who were found guilty in a single case for attempting to assassinate security officers and targeting police stations and convoys, the report added.

Saudi Arabia’s last mass execution was in January 2016, when the kingdom executed 47 people, including a prominent opposition Shia leader who had rallied demonstrations in the kingdom.

In 2019, the kingdom beheaded 37 Saudi citizens, most of them minority Shia, in a mass execution across the country for alleged “terrorism”-related crimes.

Saudi Arabia’s human rights records have been under increasing scrutiny from rights groups and Western allies since the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

It has faced strong criticism of its restrictive laws on political and religious expression, and the implementation of the death penalty, including for defendants arrested when they were minors.

Saudi Arabia denies accusations of human rights abuses and says it protects its national security according to its laws.

SPA said the accused were provided with the right to a lawyer and were guaranteed their full rights under Saudi law during the judicial process.

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Nigerian student in Ukraine: 'Mummy we keep hearing bombs'




Hauwa’s son Suleiman is a Nigerian student in Sumy – she says the family are fearful and anxious.

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