'Letters from Baghdad' tells the remarkable story of Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), British adventurer, spy, archaeologist and powerful political force. She has been called one of the most powerful women in the British Empire at a time when women had no power. More influential in her day than friend and colleague Lawrence of Arabia, Bell traveled into the uncharted Arabian desert at the dawn of the 20th century. Fluent in Arabic, she was recruited by British Military Intelligence during World War I to work in Baghdad, where she helped draw the borders of Iraq, install its first king and established the Iraq Museum, infamously looted in 2003.
The film has enormous contemporary relevance, as ISIS continues to destroy many of the archaeological sites that Gertrude Bell worked so hard to protect. Bell died at age 58 from an overdose of sleeping pills and is buried in Baghdad.
'Letters From Baghdad' pulls back the curtain on a completely unexpected view of the Middle East in never-seen-before archival footage, shot in the region over 100 years ago. Much of the footage is hand-tinted and has been scanned from the original 35mm film negative to create an extraordinary visual experience. The film is told entirely from primary source materials including letters written by Gertrude Bell (read by Tilda Swinton) and published and unpublished military intelligence documents. We have extraordinary access to the Iraq National Library and Archive, who is one of our partners, and the Iraq Museum. This access allows us to tell the story of the beginnings of Iraq from the Iraqi point of view, as well as, the British. Our film has no talking heads and a unique and compelling structure which brings the contemporary relevance of this story into focus.