Urban Sights: Urban History and Visual Culture


The Iraq Petroleum Company films actively produced a discursive and visual argument about petroleum’s promise to modernize Iraq through images of its capital Baghdad. Documentary film was a powerful medium through which the oil company and the state promoted its narrative to legitimate its operations in Iraq. Images of new boulevards, schools, public buildings, automobile traffic and double decker buses signified the modernization of the built environment. This was held up on screen as evidence of petroleum’s promise. These films are efforts to imagine the modern nation of Iraq and naturalize oil wealth using images of the built environment to construct a modern geography of national territory, national history and national identity.

The films examined in this essay deliberately projected IPC's imaginary of modern Iraq to Iraqis. The Third River was the oil company’s first attempt to use film to communicate directly with Iraqi audiences and craft a story of oil as the harbinger of development rather than the symbol of imperialism to Iraqis residing in all parts of the country. The IPC cine-magazine Beladuna removed the oil company from the image of Iraq completely. The IPC film unit focused instead on making short films about the transformations affecting the people of Iraq and region, most of which did not relate to the oil industry in any obvious way. For example, in A More Beautiful Capital, the destruction of Baghdad’s old neighbourhoods was rationalized as evidence of modernity, making way for new construction of 'beautiful' public buildings and modernist housing estates.
The collective experience of watching cinema is powerful and fosters the possibility of a national imaginary as well as a distinct experience of urban modernity. The Iraq Petroleum Company projected its films to citizens across Iraq, from oil workers in the fields and residents of Baghdad in the city centre. In colloquial Arabic, the narration put words to the moving pictures of modern Iraq that linked these distant communities across the country.
Review of Contents
1. Introduction
2. Oil films in context
3. The Iraq Petroleum Company Medienverbund
4. Iraq's first public relations picture
5. Iraqis behind the camera

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