Bridges to Baghdad

I just came across this fascinating media project, Bridges to Baghdad, produced by Link TV, a non-profit television channel.

Bridges is a two-part series that places students from New York and Baghdad in conversation via live satellite feed in order to foster dialogue between youth in the two countries. The first part was filmed in March 2003, just days before the invasion. The second part, which I haven’t had an opportunity to watch yet, was filmed after the invasion began. This entry will consist primarily of unorganized notes on what I’ve seen so far. It’s worth noting that the first episode places emphasis on the technologies and labor required to produce the event. In addition, the show’s producers are shown talking to various Iraqi ministers, specifically arranging for permission to produce the show (notably, the ministers offer little resistance).

I’ve been watching the first episode off-and-on as I write this entry (available on streaming video from the website), and it’s intriguing to watch both the connections and the limits of conversation. At one point, one of the Iraqi women interrupts a conversation on whether dissent is permitted in Iraq, asking to change the subject to something safe, such as sports or music. The conversation is punctuated by videos made by both the Iraqi and American students portraying some aspect of their daily lives, with one Iraqi teenager showing his heavy metal band while an Iraqi woman takes us on a tour of her family’s bomb shelter. Part of what is compelling about this material, of course, is how their relationships are mediated by popular culture. Iraqi students describe their enthusiasm for Eminem or the Backstreet Boys and mention that their understanding of American culture derives primarily from the films they consume (one of the American students quickly describes these films as unrealistic, romanticized portrayals).

I think this material has been available for some time, but I just happened to come across it by accident while doing some digging for documentary materials on the war for a paper I’m writing.

5 Comments »

  1. acquarello Said,

    January 18, 2006 @ 11:14 am

    By any chance, have you been able to see Paul Chan’s Baghdad in no Particular Order? The film’s website has a few stills from the film. This one was filmed before the second Iraq War, when the rhtetoric was escalating, so it reflects a mood that’s more apprehensive normalcy than actual despair.

  2. Chuck Said,

    January 18, 2006 @ 1:18 pm

    Thanks for the tip. The stills are intriguing, as is the entire web project (the mix of essays with still images and some music tracks), which clearly takes its cue from Benjamin’s Arcades Project.

    Here’s a little more information about the film at the Video Databank.

  3. Chuck Said,

    January 18, 2006 @ 1:21 pm

    BTW, one of director Paul Chan’s other projects, Now Let Us Praise Ameican Leftists also looks interesting.

  4. acquarello Said,

    January 19, 2006 @ 8:34 am

    Chan was also available for the Q&A after the New York Video Festival screening a couple of years ago, and he definitely gave the impression that he was a spiritually-based, peace activist. He wasn’t preachy or anything, but I did get the sense that he felt demoralized by the government’s decision to invade Iraq, so these were a bit like lost personal memories for him. There was one sequence showing a bombed out repository building that was especially compelling. Apparently, it was built deep in the ground to house archives so that they wouldn’t be damaged in case of war. Unfortunately, “bunker busters” were used to bomb the repository thinking that they contained high-ranking officials or something and everything was destroyed. There were some very compelling arguments for the “other side” in that film.

  5. Chuck Said,

    January 19, 2006 @ 11:24 am

    Thanks for the further description of Chan’s film. The connection you’re making between documentary and (lost) memory is an interesting one. There are some similar sequences in Sinan Antoon’s About Baghdad–of destroyed librraies and classroom buildings–that are pretty devastating….

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