“Miracle in the Marshes of Iraq” – reviews

On location in Southern Iraq, 2010 courtesy of Bruce Chadwick

From the Guardian:

Filmmakers David Johnson and Stephen Foote prepared for a trip to Iraq with first aid courses and kidnapping awareness training, not to record the conflict, but to film birds for a Natural World special, Miracle in the Marshes of Iraq (BBC2). Their destination was the marshlands of southern Iraq – said to be the site of the Garden of Eden – which once covered an area the size of Wales. That was up until the late 1980s, when Saddam decided he wanted to get rid of the indigenous Marsh Arabs and drained the whole thing.

Azzam Alwash used to visit the area as a boy. His family fled to America, but when Saddam was toppled Alwash, now an engineer, went back and found the marshes replaced with parched, flat desert. While on one level he admired the engineering – Saddam had erected a seven-metre-high embankment, 45 miles long, on both sides of the Euphrates – he was mostly appalled, and decided to do something about it.

This was a deeply satisfying film, largely about nature making its own recovery. Alwash poked a hole in the embankment, and the rushing water did the rest. Within nine months the reed beds were growing again. The birds returned – pelicans, flamingoes, the rare Basra Reed Warbler – and so did the fish. The Marsh Arabs started to come back and resume their way of life.

But Alwash’s dream of a national park is still some way off. “When people are being found headless in the street, this is not yet an eco-tourist destination,” he said. But what’s bad for almost everyone else is very good for the Basra Reed Warbler, and one has to start somewhere.

And from the Independent:

A lot of natural history documentaries these days tag on a little “making of” extra at the end, so that you can see just how difficult it was to get the shot that had you gasping 20 minutes before. Natural World Special: Miracle in the Marshes of Iraq had little choice but to incorporate the behind-the-scenes footage into the film itself, a report on attempts to repair Saddam Hussein’s deliberate destruction of the marshlands of southern Iraq. Little choice because the natural history footage they’d actually secured wouldn’t have made it much past the half-way mark in an hour-long film. But also because the circumstances in which they were filming were so unusual that they were inextricably part of the story.

“This isn’t about the bang-bang it’s about the tweet-tweet,” said Stephen Foote, who made the film along with the film-maker David Johnson. He meant that they weren’t heading for Basra to contribute yet more grim footage of violence and explosions and civil chaos. In practice, though, the “tweet-tweet” proved fugitive and the “bang-bang” inescapable. They got away without being hit by IEDs or ending up in the back of a kidnapper’s truck, but only because they were travelling with a security team armed to the teeth. After one filming attempt had foundered – over a tribal dispute that threatened to escalate into something much more dangerous – the two-man crew found themselves with a private army of 30 men watching them as they watched distant feathery blobs.

You sensed a certain apologetic note in Johnson’s voiceover. The Iraq babbler was “a bit bland”, he conceded, and the Basra reed warbler “unspectacular”. But the defensive tone was unnecessary, even for those viewers who don’t twitch reflexively at the mention of a marbled teal. This was a fascinating, often moving film, about an attempt to heal a once beautiful landscape… and how healing an untouched landscape can be.


~ by Stephen Foote on January 19, 2011.

One Response to ““Miracle in the Marshes of Iraq” – reviews”

  1. Have you investigated the OIL connection in the location of the Garden of Eden? What oil companies are doing to destroy that Garden of Eden? Your vision would not be complete if you do not investigate this.

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