Urban Sights: Urban History and Visual Culture

Imagining oil as a natural and national resource

The Third River crafts a positive image of the oil industry for Iraqis that put the oil company in the background. Instead dignified and cooperative Iraqi oil workers came to the fore of this narrative. The film shows Iraqis as the driving force behind the construction of the pipeline, which is thus imagined as a nation-building project rather than a corporate endeavour. Beyond this, the film narrative explicitly ties the project of oil extraction to the promise of modernity and social progress in Iraq. 

The title and narration of The Third River emphasizes the flow of oil through its new pipeline akin to the great rivers - Tigris and Euphrates - that bring life to the land in Iraq. Thus, the pipeline is represented, like modern methods of water management and irrigation, as a conduit that aids the country's transition from 'the old' to 'the new'. Furthermore, the film works to erase the visibility of the foreign company from the story of oil through an emphasis that oil extraction is akin to a natural process, merely helped along by modern industry. In this regard, the film attempts to naturalize the colonial practice of oil extraction. 
The narrative excludes documentation of the top-down planning by the IPC that was necessary to map and execute the pipeline project. Much of the film, in fact, is a presentation of images through montage capturing Arab laborers participating in the 'bottom-up' image of pipeline construction. The film presents long sequences of men at work, welding, lifting and waiting patiently on the constantly moving job site as the tedium of construction goes on. In the film and related promotional materials, images of the oil company’s non-Iraqi representatives and experts remain virtually absent, except when white supervisors in European dress are shown speaking with men on the ground. Ultimately, The Third River defines the project of oil extraction as a logical extension of the country’s natural wealth, a foundation for the promise of national development, signified by modernization in the capital, and a stage for workforce productivity and co-operation. 

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