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joebalasspicforic.jpgThis week at the Tribeca Film Festival, I attended the premiere of Canadian filmmaker Joe Balass’ short film, “Baghdad Twist.” The movie tells the story of Balass’ family, Iraqi Jews who were forced to leave the country after the revolution in 1967. The film, described as a “visual memoir,” combines family photographs, a super 8 film, and stock footage to tell the story of the Jewish people who lived happily in Baghdad for many years before politics and war forced them to leave. The film’s only audio, aside from a few carefully selected songs and selections from radio broadcasts, is a conversation Balass has with his mother, Valentine, where he asks her to tell him stories about her life. Although we never see her except in old pictures, Valentine is the most engaging character in the film. She’s funny, wrenching, and painfully honest in her recollections of the beloved country she was forced to leave.


Balass was four years old and the youngest child in his family when they managed to immigrate from Baghdad to Montreal. Therefore, he has only spotty memories of the country he was born in. “Baghdad Twist” is not only about piecing together his family’s history, it’s about restoring Balass’ personal memory, since the family does not have any artifacts or other treasures to remember Iraq by (the photographs used in the film were actually smuggled out of the country by a Balass family friend at the Italian embassy). In an interview, Balass said that he wanted to make the movie “in order to show what Iraq could have been.” In a way, he’s also showing what he could have been, if the world hadn’t gotten in the way.
To learn more about “Baghdad Twist,” you can visit its official website here.

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