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Baghdad Twist

Baghdad Twist

In this "visual memoir," filmmaker Joe Balass, born in Baghdad in 1966, blends a voice-over interview with his mother, Valentine, and an evocative flow of photos, archival footage and Super-8 home movies of his family's life in Iraq before their departure for a new home in Canada in 1970.

In so doing, BAGHDAD TWIST provides a poignant portrait of Iraq's Jewish society, which had existed since Babylonian times as one of the world's oldest and most historically significant Jewish communities, living harmoniously among their Arab neighbors. Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, however, they began to experience persecution, and thousands of Iraqi Jews fled to Israel. The government-inspired persecution intensified after the 1967 war, when Iraqi Jews were suspected as "Israeli spies."

As Balass poses questions to his mother, she reminisces about their life in Iraq beginning in the Fifties, from fond recollections of joyful family gatherings and weddings to more emotionally intense memories from the late '60s, in particular a growing sense of insecurity and fears for her husband-who was imprisoned three separate times-herself, and her children, as their phone lines were cut and they were forbidden, like other Jews, to leave Baghdad. She also movingly recounts the family's sudden and daring escape by car, leaving their home and belongings behind.

Valentine's memories ranges from crystal-clear to somewhat vague and fragmentary but the overall portrait she shares is one of a vibrant multicultural society that increasingly became politically fragmented and, within a decade, led to the virtual disappearance of the Jewish community in Iraq. Present estimates are that approximately 100 Jews remain in the country, with only seven to eight living in Baghdad.

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