The First Movie Review

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Writer and documentarian Mark Cousins takes a projector and cameras to a small Iraqi village to share the magic of cinema.


Former presenter of the excellent auteur-interview series Scene By Scene and BBC2’s much-missed cult film strand Moviedrome, Mark Cousins travels with cameras, films and his Marmite persona to Iraq in this tender documentary. He, still, speaks, in, such, a, pronounced, manner, that, it, can, be, annoying, but his passion for cinema is infectious and his sincerity welcome in an irony-drenched era.

Visiting the Kurdish village of Goptapa he gives cameras to kids who film their elders’ vivid recollections of Saddam Hussein’s chemical attacks, as well as their own charming, moving flights of fancy. Cousins’ device of putting himself in the picture, through his violence-stricken Belfast upbringing, only half works, while there’s a self-conscious lyricism to some sequences, but there’s beauty in both the landscapes and seeing audiences appreciate the escape of cinema for the first time. As the children watch ET or reach up to the screen to try and catch the titular Red Balloon, only a hard person could stifle a sniff and a sense of hope and love despite life’s horrors.

A thoughtful documentary showing a side of a country we only usually see through a blood-smeared lens. Small, but humanising.