Friday, June 30, 2017

On the Banks of the Tigris (movie review)

The Portland Blues Festival kicked off today and our Hawthorne bus 14 moved slowly across the bridge, stuck in traffic.

I was on my way to Rogue Hall to meet up with Dr. Tagrid Khuri of Portland State University.  Our plan: to see this award winning movie at the Clinton Street Theater (Tag was expecting outdoor live Arabic music, and I wasn't sure what to expect, but never mind).

The film is a work in ethnography, more specifically ethnomusicology. A lot of the folk music of Iraq traces to Iraqi Arab Jews, who knew?  They fled Iraq en masse, after some two thousand years by the Tigris, starting in the early 1950s, some looking for a new life in the newly established state of Israel.

The Ba'athists seemed keen on erasing cultural memory, but music and memes are more powerful than mere politics.  Enforced ignorance doesn't last.

The film is the result of a collaboration between a Muslim Iraqi refugee, Majid Shokor, living in Australia, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, and an Ashkenazi Jewish woman, Marsha Emerman, with experience making documentary films.

The project took about ten years to complete.  This was not a first screening by any means, but was a strategic one, with Emerman joining by Skype from Victoria, British Columbia, fielding questions.

The film succeeds in conveying the respect musicians have for their music, in ways that transcend ethnicity.

The opportunity to share memories, life stories, in a relatively safe environment, comforted by familiar tunes, brings out the best in people.  The film is uplifting, as well as informative.