Sunday, September 14, 2008

How Iraq turned from the Garden of Eden to hell

The Canadian Press interviews Joe Balass, who made Baghdad Twist, a film which chronicles how the site of the Biblical Garden of Eden turned into a living hell for Iraq's Jews in the late 1960s:

"The Iraqi-born director escaped from the country in 1970 at the age of four, brought out by his mother at a time when the situation for his Jewish family, as with all Jews in Iraq, became increasingly unsafe.

"His film uses family photographs and archival newsreel footage dating from 1920 to '70 to evoke a tranquil era, with images of children swimming in the Tigris River, schoolgirls playing volleyball and wedding guests in western clothes dancing the twist.

"On the soundtrack, Balass's mother answers his questions about what life was like before the population of Jews plummeted from an estimated 150,000-220,000 to close to zero today.

"I was a Jewish Iraqi - the two always went together," she says firmly, the determination in her voice suggesting great inner strength.

"I speak Jewish Arabic, that's my mother tongue."

"After the 1967 war between Israel and Arab countries, Jews faced a surge of hatred and violence in Iraq, and she decided soon after to try to save her family by getting out.

"If we stay, we are dead. If we leave, maybe we survive," she says.

"The fact that events changed suddenly for Jews is something that Balass says he wanted to highlight with his selection of images.

"People are happy, people are dancing, everything is fine - and then from one day to the next your neighbours turn against you, there's propaganda on the radio that says you're a spy, and things just can go completely upside down," he says."

See other articles about Baghdad Twist here and here

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