At this edition of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival an endless number of prizes were awarded to films, directors, actresses and actors. A total of 32. The prize money totalled just under one million dollars. When the juries (except the FIPRESCI jury) weren’t able to agree on one winner unanimously, compromise categories of Special Jury Award, Special Mentions and Honourable Mentions were happily found.
One film didn’t win a prize in any category, although it should have, because it was unusual, significant, formally radical, experimental, and because it reduced the documentary film to its simplest denominator: showing, observing, and not judging. This film opens the audience to a piece of reality and allows it the freedom to sharpen its view, to make discoveries, to decide freely and to interpret. The audience is freed from the compelling view of the filmmaker, who suggests how to look at things.
The film is called Whispers of the Cities, and the director is Kasim Abid from Iraq.
Kasim Abid has filmed in three different cities: Ramallah in the West Bank, Erbil in Northern Iraq and Baghdad. He pointed his camera onto streets and squares; he filmed from balconies and windows. During the Second Intifada he observed street life from the balcony of the Royal Court Hotel in Ramallah, where he was the only guest. From a distance he observed the movements of daily life, the choreography on the stage of reality. In 2003 he returned to his birth place, Baghdad, a very scarred and decaying city, and noted: “There is no ordinary day in Iraq. Every day is an enormous challenge. Even something like taking your kids to school or buying vegetables at the market can be an extremely dangerous challenge.”
The images which Kasim Abid finds don’t provide an explanation for political conditions, no commentator explains the social background, and no interview statements expresses political opinions. “I am an image man”, Abid says. “I carry a camera wherever I go and when I see something which interests me, I shoot. I usually have no idea why or what it might become. It’s just a moment.”
What we see in Kasim Abid’s film are people moving around in moving times, and images of ordinary life from broken places. Children on muddy streets, American tanks and soldiers with weapons conducting patrols, an ambulance finding its way in the traffic, the police trying to direct car drivers in a sequence full of absurd humour, the sad the image of a man standing in the pouring rain, an old woman knocking on car windows begging, and in the background smoke rising in the sky, explosions, the hum of helicopters…
For eight years Kasim Abid (director, producer, cinematographer and editor) travelled back and forth. His observations of daily life in the struggling cities of Ramallah, Erbil and Baghdad are visual alternatives to what we call “political film”. The latter uses rational arguments, wants to convince with verbal information, takes a stand and asks for partisanship. Whispers of the Cities shows people who want to continue their lives in times of violence, terror and in the face of a political show of force.
The film evokes compassion. It should have been awarded a prize.
Edited by Carmen Gray
© FIPRESCI 2013