Urban Sights: Urban History and Visual Culture

Film distribution

Cinema was popular in Iraq by the end of the 1940s and its theatres reportedly drew an annual attendance of 25 million viewers by 1950. According to the company, during the 1950s at least one third of Iraqis was reported to have seen the IPC films. In order to reach general audiences, IPC documentaries and cine-magazine episodes screened prior to feature films among the 39 cinema houses and 32 outdoor cinemas in Iraq’s major cities. Arthur Elton, senior advisor to the film unit, noted enthusiastically that the IPC cine-magazine, 'happened to be almost the first film ever made about Iraq, almost the first time anyone had recorded what was happening in Iraq. In no time at all the film was showing in public cinemas to enthusiastic audiences. In fact, enthusiasm was so great that the film was sometimes played through twice, and tickets changed hands at a premium!' 

Beyond theatrical screenings, IPC employed mobile cinema vans to project its films to audiences in smaller towns and isolated locations, such as oil fields and pump stations. According to the film unit’s cameraman, Peter Kelly, the vans would even travel to remote sites like Nasriyah and stage special screenings for audiences of IPC staff and oil workers that were as small as 50-100 people. In 1953, the first modern cinema house opened in the Kirkuk oil fields to show various programmes of popular and company films. 

English-language versions of IPC’s Arabic-language films were also distributed outside of Iraq, among internal and general audiences in Britain. The films were shown to company staff in the cinema room in the London headquarters on Oxford Street, 'so that office personnel [could] learn – from English versions of the Iraq films - what takes place at the oil-producing centres they [were] never likely to see.' Derek Hayter, a former IPC public relations official, recounted that in addition to internal screenings, the London office regularly loaned English translations of the films to British schools, universities and film societies free of charge.  

IPC films were also available for the public to borrow free of charge from the Petroleum Film Bureau in London. The most popular films among British audiences were not produced by IPC’s own film unit but by London-based productions units like Film Centre and Greenpark. Chief among them were the oil-company-sponsored films The Third River, Ageless Iraq and Rivers of Time, which were catalogued and promoted in film trade periodicals such as Film User and To-day’s Cinema as educational films appropriate for teaching students about Iraq, its history and culture. These films were translated to Arabic for distribution in Iraq; however, only the English-language versions have been archived and made available.

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