“Jews, Muslims, Christians – we were all Iraqis – it was paradise…” so says Eileen Khalastchy when describing Iraq from her childhood. Remember Baghdad is the story of five Jewish families who share memories from growing up in the country, when their friends and families prospered while working peacefully with their Muslim neighbours. They also reveal how that life drastically changed after the creation of the State of Israel on 14th May 1948 and even more so after the Six Day War with Israel in 1967. During that period especially – and the time since the conflict – many of their families fled Iraq with no money and with stories similar to those refugees seeking asylum today.
The start of the documentary follows Londoner Edwin Shakur as he prepares to return to Baghdad intent on buying property. He wants Jews with Iraqi ancestry to remember that it’s also their homeland. He knows of only five Jews living in the city. The weaving together of the various interviews is effective. The consensus is that life in Iraq was idyllic. David Dangoor’s mother, Renée, was even crowned the first “Miss Baghdad” in the country’s inaugural beauty contest in 1947; their family socialised with Iraqi elite. Dangoor was surprised to find that online her photo has become a symbol of the nation’s best days.
Filmmaker Fiona Murphy utilises narration, interviews, home videos, news archives and photographs to piece together these cheerful and harrowing stories. She zooms in on certain faces in old photographs with just the right sentimental music accompaniment. Her access to such intact home footage is a marvel. Baghdad was really booming; some Jewish families were selling American cars and others were bottling Coca-Cola, most of them having Muslim business partners. Once the tides turned, the horrifying footage of real bodies hanging in public squares is beyond disturbing. Danny Dallal describes how his uncle was taken and weeks later a newspaper article said he was guilty of treason and would be hanged the following day.
69 minutes may not seem enough time to delve into the history of five families, and while it would have been engaging to hear more about Iraqi’s Nazi ties and how the Jews felt betrayed by the British, the essentials are well covered. Murphy clearly has a knack for storytelling and discussing the impact migration has on families. Her film is well crafted, showing a slice of history that has long been forgotten.
Remember Baghdad is released in selected cinemas on the 17th November 2017.
Watch the trailer for Remember Baghdad here: