Iraq has become globally synonymous with many things over the last ten years: war, disruption, poverty, struggle, strife, even futility. As conflict in the region continues to rage, it’s easy to forget about the country’s populace, but film critic-turned-filmmaker Mark Cousins certainly hasn’t. After screening several movies for the inhabitants of the small Kurdistan village of Goptapa, most of whom had never before seen a motion picture, Cousins distributed cameras to the town’s children and invited them to make their own films. In The First Movie, the former critic’s own camera observes them as they do so.
Although often (and somewhat clumsily) billed as a film about children, The First Movie is not simply a saccharine depiction of the innocence of youth. Its message is one of unity through art, of the magic of cinematic escapism. The film’s goal is not merely to document the pain of Iraqi families, nor to exploit it, but to open a generation of children’s eyes to the power of film. It’s as much about cultural exchange as it is about filmmaking, Cousins using art as a means of communication between people with no common experience, and cultivating the kind of bond between himself and the townsfolk only possible through the exchange of artistic ideas. The children equipped with cameras may have never known their country in peacetime, but Cousins tries to show them, and us, that peace can be won in the mind, not just on the battlefield.