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Letters from Baghdad


Letters from Baghdad is the passion project of award-winning editor Zeva Oelbaum and award winning producer and photographer Sabine Krayenbuhl, which tells the little known story of Gertrude Bell, an English writer, archaeologist, traveller and photographer in the Middle East, who helped to shape the destiny of Iraq after WW1. The film is inspired by their own travels throughout the Middle East and by Janet Wallachs’ biography of Gertude Bell “Desert Queen”, and charts Bells’ journey into the unchartered Arabian desert and core of British colonial power.

Dubbed the ‘female Lawrence of Arabia’, Gertrude Bell obtained a first class honour degree in history from Oxford and spoke Arabic, Persian, French and German. She was

working for the Red Cross in France before joining a British Intelligence unit in Cairo and being asked to get soldiers through the desert. There, she joined force with the infamous British traveller T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) in order to forge alliances with Arab tribes. Her writings and correspondence about her experiences in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, uniquely form the entire narrative of the film and only the real words from her and her contemporaries, from over 1600 of these letters, are used. Actor Tilda Swinton voices the words of Bell, whilst the players in her life are voiced by other actors, occasionally speaking on screen as if being interviewed, which is a conceit which works very well and lifts the film above than being just a documentary. 

Together with incredible never-before seen archival footage of the region, Oelbaum and Krayenbuhl have created a fascinating film, and their passion for telling Bells’ story is clear. She was a formidable woman, and the only woman of her time to influence British policy in the Middle East, the repercussions of which are still felt a hundred years later today. Highly recommend. 

By Fano Xenofos

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UK Release Date: 
Monday, April 10, 2017
USA Release Date: 
Monday, April 10, 2017