Letters From Baghdad Followed By Panel Discussion, Curzon Soho, 27 April 2017

Janie and I were particularly keen to see the movie Letters From Baghdad – click here for IMDb listing – and were motivated to put this Thursday evening aside as there was to be a panel discussion, organised by the producers Bird’s Eye View,  after the film’s showing at the Curzon Soho.

18:25 in Soho is a bit early for us mid-week and seemingly was a bit early for everyone else – while we made it on time there seemed to be no rush to start the showing on time.

Still, what that did mean was that we did have time for a drink before the show and ended up chatting with one of the panellists, Joan Porter MacIver, who heads the British Institute For The Study of Iraq, aka The Gertrude Bell Memorial. In truth, by far the most interesting aspect of the panel discussion for us was the chat we had with Joan before the showing.

The film itself was fascinating. Gertrude Bell was a most unusual woman for her era and was hugely influential in early 20th century Arabia as the Ottoman Empire collapsed and The Great War settlement came into play. The movie is basically dramatised letters and archive papers by and about Gertrude Bell.

The panel discussion was a bit of an anti-climax. Mia Bays from Bird’s Eye View hosted the discussion. The other panellists were Joan Porter MacIver (which made perfect sense) and Paul Hilder, for reasons which seemed hard to fathom at the time and in retrospect…seem equally hard to fathom. Hilder seems to be a self-appointed doyen of “new politics” and did, in 2005, co-author a paper on the Iraqi liberation, although this last fact was not mentioned during the discussion.

Each panellist asked a very open question about the film’s topic and the audience were asked to comment or ask supplementary questions of the panellists. I remember very little of what was said, other than the very obvious points about the male-dominated society in which Gertrude Bell operated more or less omitting her from the historical record for decades after she died.

Still, we were pleased to have seen the fascinating film and would have wondered about the panel discussion had we not attended that night. But we won’t be rushing to panel discussions in future unless we know the panellists and/or the nature of the proposed discussion ahead of time.

Janie (no Gertrude Bell), trying to endear herself to the locals in Palmyra, 1997.

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