Posted December 10, 2011 by Peter D. Marsay in DVD/Blu-ray

The First Movie

For many film lovers the first film they ever saw holds a special place in their heart.

For many film lovers the first film they ever saw
holds a special place in their heart.
Others have been watching films since
before they can remember. Critic
turned director Mark Cousins’ 2009
documentary attempts to capture the magic of cinema as experienced for the very
first time, in Iraq of all places, thus also showing a side of a topical
country that news cameras never cover.

Cousins begins by
describing his childhood as an imaginative youngster in Belfast, which like
present day Iraq of course had bombs of its own. As a child the time he spent in his local cinema felt more
‘real’ to him than that spent in the everyday world outside of it, and he
invites us to once again see through the eyes of a child, considering what
might seem ‘real’ in the experience of a group of children in the small Iraqi
town of Goptapa. Like the rest of
the country, Goptapa is a place with a history of unimaginably violent tragedy.

To introduce the
townsfolk to the movies Cousins shows a selection of classic short films,
followed by Steven Spielberg’s
magnificent E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The kids go berserk, clapping and
whooping at the finale! In the
narration Cousins puts it that “Never have films about love, solidarity and
loneliness heard such cheering.”
It’s moving stuff.

Next the children are
given little high definition cameras to take away with them, with instructions
to shoot stories of their own.
Without revealing what they come up with, the results demonstrate real
creativity and an inner compulsion towards love rather than hate. Cousins refers to cameras as empathy
machines, and anyone who witnesses what he has captured with his camera and the
children with theirs, will be hard pressed not to be filled with compassion for
the young people of Goptapa, who had no say on the situation which they were
born into. The way that their
environment has shaped their imaginations is affecting and vivid.

The film explores at a
base level what the art of filmmaking can be, and the value that it holds for
humanity. Cousins’ gentle style of
direction and the delicate edit are the perfect fit to bring these points home. His insights delivered via voiceover
periodically give way to magical montages, with music that breathtakingly
enriches the images. This
highlights not only the effectiveness of moving pictures to portray emotions
and experiences, but also the way that sound can transform an image into
something entirely new, or a place like Iraq into a children’s wonderland.

When all is said and
done Cousins doesn’t deny the reality of Iraq’s situation, including footage of
his crew being ordered to stop filming by the police. As a snapshot of a rarely seen side of the country combined
with a powerful reminder of the near elemental force of stories told with
moving pictures, The First Movie is a true triumph.

Peter D. Marsay

Cameraman & video editor.