MARK COUSINS wants you to forget everything you've seen about Iraq. Suicide bombings, drought-ridden landscapes, bloodied villages, all of it. In return, the Irish director gives you The First Movie, his 2009 film seen through the eyes of imagination-fueled children living in rural Iraq. The film focuses on Goptapa, a town of 700 that was brutally shaken by early-'80s air strikes under Saddam Hussein's reign. Each family in the village lost a large percentage of their relatives in the attacks and is barely holding onto the life they once had.
But instead of focusing on the inhumane tragedy, Cousins turns to the lively youth who survived. Children of all ages take Cousins' donated cameras into their own hands, expressing their passions, adventures, and eye-opening maturity through shaky-handed clips. In addition, Cousins brings the first temporary movie theater to town, where he introduces the giddy children to E.T. and The Red Balloon.
The film flows like the mind of an eight-year-old: Likening old oil wells to dinosaurs, sharing fart jokes, and gazing absentmindedly at the tan surroundings. One long scene simply shows the children playing with colorful balloons in the dirt, popping and tossing the never-before-seen toy. Taking cues from his favorite director, David Lynch, Cousins creates a dream-like illustration of a village ravaged by war, comparing it to his own experience as a boy brought up in a Northern Irish war zone.
Through interviews with the hardened family members of the young children, to original poetry inspired by grief, Cousins' documented slice of life shows that hope and creativity shine through the detritus left in the wake of war. It will probably make you laugh and it might make you cry—but regardless, the harsh media-fueled image you may have of Iraq will fade with Cousins' fresh interpretation.