Baghdad cinema 'gone with the wind'

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Samiramis movie theater was a central Baghdad landmark, entertaining a generation of Iraqis with first-run films ranging from the Indiana Jones series to Batman.

Baghdad cinema 'gone with the wind'
On Aug. 1, its big screen will fade to black — for good. The movie theater, one of the last of its kind, plans to close after 38 years.

"The cinema business in Baghdad and Iraq has gone with the wind," Samiramis manager Saad Samir said, using a common Iraqi expression derived from the classic 1939 Clark Gable movie.

The 1,800-seat theater was unable to cope with Iraq's endemic violence, a curfew that forces it to close at 3 p.m. each day and the global trend toward people watching DVDs at home.

"We don't have any hope that things will be better one day," Samir added Wednesday afternoon as 12 people lounged inside the theater watching a pirated copy of Spider-Man 3. "We are so sad about this decision, but we have no choice."

The problems at Samiramis began in the mid-1990s, when an inundation of pirated movies into Iraq drastically reduced theater audiences, Samir said. As business declined, the theater stopped getting first-run American-made features because it couldn't afford the $20,000-$25,000 fees. It began showing pirated DVDs, Samir said.

The toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 brought not only violence, but "an era of immorality," Samir said. Most of Baghdad's dozen or so movie theaters now show pornography — forbidden in public under Saddam — while others have been bombed or simply closed, Samir said.

"Samiramis is the only decent theater still working in Baghdad," said Firas Hamdi, 27, an unemployed engineer who came to the theater Wednesday. "People who had the real taste for American movies left the country, and those who remained have no education, and their main interest is sex."

Maximum attendance is now about 50 people. "Many of them come here not to watch a movie but to spend several hours in the air-conditioned hall," Samir said on a day when the temperature hit 118 degrees, average for mid-July. "Some are taking naps."

Hamdi was happy to pay the $2.40 admission to escape the heat of his apartment, which has air conditioning for only the hour or so each day when power is working. Hamdi said he also wanted to "escape the mayhem" and catch the latest Spider-Man installment. "I hope it will be a quiet day," Hamdi said, "so I can enjoy my time here peacefully."


Güncelleme Tarihi: 14 Temmuz 2007, 13:46