Urban Sights: Urban History and Visual Culture


Beladuna was notably the most genuine effort among contemporaries in oil company media making to engage with the complexities of modernization in an oil-producing country. Several of the short films included the company cine-magazine Beladuna provide a relatively nuanced study of the challenges of nation building, from the destruction of old Baghdad neighbourhoods to make way for modern construction projects. Although Beladuna never came close to providing an explicit critique of the power wielded by the oil industry or government, a distinction in IPC’s approach to filmmaking is obvious in the specific nature of the film subjects and input of the Iraqi production crew members. In fact, the IPC cine-magazine consistently neglected to present any reference to the oil company in its stories about modern Iraq. 
Among the dozens of episodes made as part of the Beladuna series, a reoccurring theme that built on the central message in The Third River was the modernization of Baghdad. However, in these films the modernization of the city was only implicitly linked to the country’s increasing oil wealth. Oil and IPC are not mentioned. A More Beautiful Capital (Arabic: Assimatun Ajmel) is a short documentary made in 1955 as part of the tenth episode of the IPC’s Arabic-language cine-magazine. The film depicts the modernization of Baghdad's built environment in the mid-1950s, namely the destruction of older neighborhoods to make way for 'modern construction'. The documentary is constructed as a sequence of montages accompanied by an original soundtrack and scripted voiceover, narrating various scenes of the making of modern Baghdad. Visible evidence of urban change is used to illustrate and substantiate scripted commentary. The musical composition shifts in tone and level to enhance the mood of each sequence. The narration works to persuade audiences that destruction of older neighbourhoods is necessary to facilitate construction of modern buildings, which are fundamental to making Baghdad into 'a capital fit for a modern country'.
IPC promoted its Beladuna series as an effort 'to project modern Iraq' to ordinary Iraqis. The decision to make the national population of an oil-producing country the primary audience for corporate films was until then unprecedented in the Middle East. IPC screened the films in theatres of every major Iraqi city prior to feature films, as well as in mobile units that would travel to audiences of oil workers in remote oil fields, pump stations and refineries. During the summer special screening would be held outdoors. Documentation of the distribution and reception of these films from the Iraqi perspective has not been recorded or is no longer available. What is clear from the films as well as interviews with filmmakers related to the production of Beladuna is that the company used the company cine-magazine as an attempt to establish a coherent national imaginary of progress in Iraq that was implicitly tied to the story of oil.

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