First Published: 2013-09-05

 

‘Ghoul’ re-emerges in Iraq

 

10-minute 3D animated film 'Baghdad Night' keeps alive ancient folk tale that risks being lost in time.

 

Middle East Online

By Prashant RAO - BAGHDAD

Scary saalua coming to haunt you

As Iraq rebuilds after decades of brutality, one Baghdad resident is bent on reviving an ancient folk tale that, like much of the country's history, risks being lost in time.

"Baghdad Night" is a 10-minute 3D animated film made against all odds by an Iraqi team led by film-maker Furat al-Jamil.

It tells the story of the saalua, a ghoul known across Iraq and the Gulf who also makes a brief appearance in "One Thousand and One Nights".

The saalua is used by parents to scare naughty children, but many now fear its story is fading as Iraq marches into modernity.

"I think most Iraqis have forgotten about her, but when I tell them about the saalua, they remember it, and they all smile and are happy, and remember their childhood," said Jamil.

The film-maker, born to Iraqi and German parents, grew up in Baghdad.

She said "Baghdad Night" was "an introduction to a new kind of cinema in Iraq... an introduction to Iraq".

Jamil hopes her film, almost two years in the making and due for release later this year, will revive a classic tale she fears could be lost.

The film aims to give a snapshot of the city and its cultural heritage, but production has suffered from typically Iraqi obstacles -- a lack of electricity, shortfalls in equipment, and staff leaving for better opportunities overseas.

Despite this, Jamil and her tiny team, working on a shoestring $180,000 (135,000-euro) budget, hope to meet a deadline to guarantee inclusion in December's Dubai International Film Festival.

The saalua is briefly referred to in the "Tales of 1,001 Nights", but has a greater foothold in Iraqi and Gulf folklore, as a ghoul or succubus used to frighten misbehaving children.

It appears in many different forms across Iraq, but the version Jamil wants to recreate is one she heard from her grandfather, who swore he followed a saalua into a cemetery.

That is the urban depiction of the saalua, a woman who seduces men into eternal servitude.

Zaydoon Hussein is in charge of the score, which ranges from environmental sound effects to recreate Baghdad to a version of Debussy's "Clair de lune" on traditional Iraqi instruments.

Ghaith Shawqi and Haidar Abdulrahim are the film's designers, the former using a grainy image of Jamil's grandmother as inspiration for the saalua and the latter painstakingly recreating the streets of old Baghdad.

Rawaa Naimi and Fuad Hanun voice the saalua and a taxi driver who falls under her spell.

Set in present-day Baghdad, the film combines the city's oldest neighbourhoods with a cemetery that is a nod to the Sheikh Omar burial ground where many of Jamil's ancestors rest.

"Baghdad is very important," Jamil said. "This saalua character is part of Baghdad."

"There should be a movie about Baghdad that is a fairy tale, not only depressing stories or war stories."

Jamil has had to confront obstacles film-makers elsewhere rarely face.

Early on, her lead designer and animator left Iraq, like many countrymen, when he was given the opportunity to take his family to the United States.

Throughout, her team has grappled with a lack of equipment and funding.

Hussein's sound studio lacks state-of-the-art computers and recording tools, while Shawqi and Abdulrahim have to work wherever they can find the space.

And all are reliant on Iraq's temperamental power supply, which becomes even worse during the boiling summer.

Shawqi said the computers at his disposal take weeks just to render the 3D animation, to say nothing of other problems he must work around.

"Electricity, it's a big problem for us," Shawqi said. Power cuts sometimes mean that massive files have to be rebuilt from scratch.

Funding has also come in fits and starts in a country with more pressing priorities than the arts.

Jamil initially put up most of the money herself, but she has since received grants from the Iraq-based Ruya Foundation and Enjaaz, a funding arm of the Dubai Film Market.

Iraq's culture ministry has also promised her financial help.

Despite the difficulties, Jamil has high hopes of the project.

She plans to showcase visual interpretations of the saalua by different Iraqi artists in an exhibition running alongside the film.

And she also hopes that if "Baghdad Night" is successful, more short films could follow.

 

Rouhani seizes opportunity to get closer to Qatar

New crown prince widely welcomed in Saudi Arabia

Banned Bahraini newspaper fires staff

Iraq forces battle deep into devastated Old Mosul

Prime time for Ramadan on Gulf fashion calendar

Mali activists call for referendum to be abandoned

Iraqi forces control two thirds of Mosul Old City

Assad leads Eid prayers in Syria’s Hama

Lone-wolf attacks raise concern about new trend in terror

Erdogan slams Saudi demands of Qatar as illegal

Sudan making 'positive' steps on meeting US sanctions terms

Mecca suicide bombing injures six

Gulf crisis heats up as Qatar receives list of demands

Suicide attacks kill at least three people in Mosul

Civilians killed in Iraq suicide bomb attacks

UN warns Yemen cholera outbreak could infect 300,000 by September

Putin launches deep-water phase of TurkStream pipeline

Berlin warns Ankara against meddling in religious affairs

Asian states downplay 'Russia proposal' to send troops to Syria

Iran’s Salehi urges West to save historic nuclear deal

Iran, allies mark Jerusalem Day with rallies

US-led Syria strikes kill 472 civilians in one month

Morocco dismantles 'IS-linked cell plotting tourist attacks'

France sets out tough new anti-terror law

Russia warships, submarine strike IS targets in Syria

Trump-Saudi ties help pave way for new Saudi crown prince

Makeshift clinic saves lives near Syria’s Raqa

Egyptian fuel helps restart Gaza power station

Rights groups say Morocco protest leader 'severely beaten' during arrest

5 killed in Mogadishu car bomb attack

UN experts urge Egypt to halt executions after 'flawed trials'

Qatar emir congratulates newly-appointed Saudi crown prince

Kushner hails 'productive' Palestine-Israel talks

Macron says removing Assad no longer priority in Syria

Turkey sends first aid ship to isolated ally Qatar

Iraq PM says IS admitting defeat in Mosul

Egypt delivers fuel to ease Gaza electricity shortage

Saudi Arabia named after ruling dynasty

Turkey detains catering boss after army food poisoning

Israel says will unleash 'unimaginable power' in future Lebanon war

Brussels nail bomber identified as Moroccan

Saudi stock market bullish on new heir

Lebanon's Salame to be new UN Libya envoy

New Saudi heir is king's agent of change

Turkish President accused of influencing courts