We are delighted to share an exciting update with you about Letters From Baghdad, our documentary film about Gertrude Bell.
“I’ve been arranging a ladies’ night at the cinematograph for which I am going to send out invitations to all the ladies of Baghdad…I should have to do an explaining of the pictures myself, as we can’t have a man in to do it…However, anything to make a little social movement, even if you have to exclude all the chaps! “
May 18, 1918
Gertrude Bell’s social gatherings for the local women of Baghdad were well-known and invitations were highly prized. She was careful to observe the “Eastern customs of the harem and concealment” and stated that in her invitations. The first films screened in Iraq in 1909, at cinemas such as the famous Al-Zawra Theater on Al-Rashid Street. It wasn’t until the 1920s, though, that going to the cinema became a cultural event. Bell’s reactions to early silent films was ambivalent at best, but newsreels, or topical films, clearly appealed to her, “I’m becoming a perfect cinema fiend now that there are so many topical films.” Over 7,500 of these films survive and excerpts will be included in Letters From Baghdad.
Tilda Swinton joins Letters From Baghdad…
We are thrilled to announce that Academy Award winning British actress Tilda Swinton has signed on as the voice of Gertrude Bell. Swinton is known for both arthouse and mainstream films including The Grand Budapest Hotel, Burn After Reading and The Chronicles of Narnia, and was nominated for a Golden Globe for her lead performances in The Deep End andWe Need to Talk About Kevin. In 2007, she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as lawyer Karen Crowder in Michael Clayton. Swinton’s innovative work as a performance artist has been presented at the Serpentine Gallery in London and most recently at MOMA New York.
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About the film…
Directed by Sabine Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum, Letters from Baghdad tells the story of Gertrude Bell who left the confines of Edwardian England to seek freedom and independence in the Arabian desert and became the most powerful woman of her day in the British Empire. In the aftermath of WWI, Bell drew the borders of modern Iraq, was instrumental in installing its first king and founded the Baghdad Museum of Antiquities. The first feature-length documentary on Gertrude Bell, the film will explore the choices that trail blazing women almost always have to make, and how her actions and the decisions she made in the formation of modern Iraq continue to influence current events in the Middle East and the world today.
Top: Al-Rashid Street, Baghdad, Mideast Image Collection
Middle: Gertrude Bell, Gertrude Bell Archives, Newcastle University
Below – Tilda Swinton, photo by Brigitte Lacombe