Documentary Case Study: Letters from Baghdad

NYWIFT partners with member Sabine Krayenbühl Saunders and the team behind Letters from Baghdad for a discussion about the making of the film. Clips from the film will be shown.

Letters from Baghdad is the story of a true original—Gertrude Bell—sometimes called the “female” Lawrence of Arabia. Voiced and executive produced by Academy award winning actor Tilda Swinton, the documentary tells the dramatic story of this British spy, explorer and political powerhouse. Bell traveled widely in Arabia before being recruited by British military intelligence to help draw the borders of Iraq after WWI. Using never-seen-before footage of the region, the film chronicles Bell’s extraordinary journey into both the uncharted Arabian desert and the inner sanctum of British male colonial power. With unique access to documents from the Iraq National Library and Archive and Gertrude Bell’s own 1600 letters, the story is told entirely in the words of the players of the day, excerpted verbatim from intimate letters, private diaries and secret communiqués. It is a unique look at both a remarkable woman and the tangled history of Iraq. The film takes us into a past that is eerily current.

Judith Aley is an archival researcher and producer for documentaries, feature films and television. Representative credits include two seasons of the climate change series Years of Living Dangerously, Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke and Bad 25, Shola Lynch’s Free Angela & All Political Prisoners, Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story and Sicko, and Amir Bar Lev’s The Tillman Story. She is currently working with Nathaniel Kahn on an untitled documentary about the art world.

Cynthia Kane created DOCday on Sundance Channel, shepherded over 150 international and U.S. co-productions for public media at ITVS, and at Al Jazeera America oversaw Kartemquin’s series Hard Earned (2016 Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Award), Albert Maysles’ final work, In Transit, Leon Gast’s Sporting Dreams, Barbara Kopple’s Shelter, Jennifer Maytorena Taylor’s Daisy and Max, Michelle Shephard and Patrick Reed’s Guantanamo’s Child, Marc Levin’s Freeway: Crack in the System and many others. With gbgg productions and Les Film de l’Après Midi, Kane executive produced, New Eyes, directed by Hiwot Admasu Getaneh (Venice, TIFF, Rotterdam). In 2016, Kane joined forces with former NYC Film Commissioner Cynthia Lopez as creative consultants for Zeva Oelbaum and Sabine Krayenbühl’s Letters from Baghdad about the extraordinary life and times of Gertrude Bell. Cynthia Kane currently works with East Village Entertainment and Women Make Movies.

Sabine Krayenbühl Saunders is an award winning editor with over 20 theatrical documentaries and narrative features to her credit, many of which have premiered at prestigious festivals around the world. Her work includes Oscar and Independent Spirit Award nominated My Architect for which she received an American Cinema Editors (ACE) Eddie Award nomination. Other credits include Mad Hot Ballroom, one of the top twenty highest grossing documentaries, The Bridge produced by IFC, Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies, produced by Martin Scorsese, Virgin Tales, Ahead of Time, Jennifer Fox’s Emmy nominated My Reincarnation, Salinger on which she consulted and most recently Eric Steel’s Kiss the Water, co-produced by BBC Films. Krayenbühl has a BFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and is a long-term member of New York Women in Film and Television.

Zeva Oelbaum is an award winning producer and photographer. She recently produced Ahead of Time, a feature documentary about centenarian journalist Ruth Gruber which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival before garnering six Best Documentary awards. The film opened theatrically across the U.S. and was broadcast on Showtime Channel. Oelbaum was also executive producer of the feature documentary, Rene and I. She comes to film from a career as a still photographer and her work has been extensively published in periodicals such as The New York Times Magazine. Her photographs are in international public collections including the Bibliothèque nationale de France and The Brooklyn Museum and two monographs of her work have been published by Rizzoli Int’l Publishers. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Brandeis University with a degree in anthropology, and a member of the Producer’s Guild.

Susan J. Margolin (Moderator) has over 25 years’ experience in global film and television. Margolin has built a reputation as a digital pioneer and dedicated supporter of independent film. After spending her early career in international film sales, she launched the independent film and television distribution company New Video in 1991 with Steve Savage. While at New Video she launched Docurama Films, which has championed more than 400 award-winning films, from Academy Award nominees including Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War, Danfung Dennis’ Hell and Back Again and Joe Berlinger’s Paradise Lost trilogy to Josh Fox’s Gasland, and Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back. In 2012, Margolin and Savage sold New Video to Cinedigm. While at Cinedigm, she released many critically acclaimed films including Short Term 12. Margolin recently launched a new company, St. Marks Productions. She currently serves on the board of directors of BAFTA NY and Chicken & Egg Pictures.

May 30 @ 6:30pm
6:30 pm — 8:30 pm (2h)

Tisch School of the Arts
New York University
721 Broadway, Screening Room 006

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NYWIFT programs, screenings and events are supported, in part, by grants from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.