Urban Sights: Urban History and Visual Culture

'A truly national enterprise'

In the cinemas of Iraq the reception of the film has since been most enthusiastic. In the making of the film the Unit was greatly helped by the work of Iraqi writers, commentators and musicians. The use of national music, specially arranged for the films and played on the traditional Arab instruments, is a feature of the 'Beladuna' series and is appreciated by all audiences in Iraq. The Unit's aim is to do as much of the making of these films as possible in Iraq, so that their production can become a truly national enterprise.
 Iraq Petroleum Magazine, 1953 

IPC’s explicit effort to present its film unit and cine-magazine as a 'truly' Iraqi endeavour and product points to its desire to shape the national discourse on oil. Undoubtedly, any success in this regard was related to the co-operative nature of the company’s relationship to the Hashemite regime. IPC’s public relations office explicitly stated the assumption that the Iraqi government looked to the company 'to do a job of general publicity that, for various reasons, they were unable to do themselves.' This included promoting Iraq’s development projects in a positive light among its citizens and promoting the country’s history and modern identity in Europe.

Drawing on local talent was an important tactic that the public relations executives in London hoped would foster success in connecting with local audiences. The earliest example of this transpired in 1952 when the British director Michael Clarke was sent to Baghdad for four months to begin production on a 'dramatic' script treatment prepared by Stuart Legg in London for a film about the construction of a massive pipeline between Kirkuk, Iraq and Banias, Syria. After conducting some research among engineers in Tripoli, Clarke was joined by the British cameraman Peter Kelly and assistant cameraman Kelvin Pike to commence shooting of The Third River, IPC’s first company film.

The fourth member of the on-location production unit was Kerim Mejid, an Iraqi cameraman with experience at Studio Misr in Egypt. Clarke has said that Mejid was brought on, 'to help us, not only technically but with his knowledge of language and customs'. Mejid’s role as part of the production team was highlighted in the Iraq Petroleum magazine where his image was featured with the caption: Iraqi Cameraman.

Arabic versions of
The Third River were produced and distributed to specialized industry and general audiences in Iraq and Syria. For the translation, filmmakers worked in co-operation with Sayed Ziad Fahim, of IPC’s Baghdad Office, and Professor Rifa'ai, of the University of Damascus, to write and record Iraqi and Syrian Arabic versions of the original commentary. As director of The Third River, Clarke has emphasized that 'the Arabic version was very important because the film was designed to reconcile the oil company to the population, much more than to describe its operations to the English-speaking audiences in Europe'. 

After 1952, the filmmaking strategy of the IPC public relations office was two fold. First, the Baghdad-based film unit was established to produce episodes exclusively of the Arabic-language cine-magazine for distribution in Iraq. Second, IPC sponsored the production of a dozen films by Film Centre and other production companies based in London. These films were made for distribution not only in Iraq, but also in other Arab countries as well as Britain. In all cases, the company promoted the involvement of Iraqi and other Arab film technicians, writers and musicians in the production of the oil company films.

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