Change The World, Create Something!

(Photo courtesy of Brent Calkin and Timo Langer)


By Shannon J. Effinger


It is one thing to know what war is like from a distance. As an American civilian, it’s hard enough watching or reading about the destruction of other countries or listening to stories about people who return from battle with parts of themselves left behind. But imagine if you were a child growing up in Iraq, with little to no possessions and the only memories you have are of loved ones who were killed by nuclear weapons. The one thing that all children have in common, regardless of their circumstances, is their imagination. The First Movie, a new documentary by Mark Cousins, will remind us all of that simple fact.

Filmed in Goptapa, a village in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the images of the landscape—clear blue sky, rich browns of the terrain and the lush green bushes and trees—might lead someone to believe that this place is paradise. But in the time that we’re living in, it would be impossible not to associate Iraq with war and devastation. In order to see Iraq in a different light, Cousins’ makes the choice to focus mainly on the children living in Goptapa. 

Despite the fact that some of the boys play with actual guns, their youthful innocence allows them to find pleasure in the simple things—from chasing floating balloons to telling silly jokes about cows farting. What better way to inspire their vivid imagination than with a film?


Most of the children in Goptapa have never watched an actual movie before. So Cousins and his crew sets up a large screen outside complete with small chairs. The first showing consisted of films like the German classic, The Singing Ringing Tree, and E.T. During the second screening, they showed the classic French film, The Red Balloon, and the children actually jump up to grab the balloons flying by on the screen.

The most powerful moments in the film occur when the children receive flip video cameras to make their own films. One of the boys creates a two minute short entitled “The Boy and The Mud.” In the film, he plays in the mud and water because in his village, he says that there’s simply nothing else to play with. And some of the other children capture footage of their loved ones telling intense stories about how their families have been tortured and killed by chemical weapons. 


In the narration, Cousins’ voice rises a bit after each pause and that was a little off putting at times, but the cinematography and the children who are given the opportunity to tell their own stories with the help of a camera are what make the film. The First Movie poses an interesting question—can war kill a child’s imagination, especially when that child lives in Iraq?


The First Movie was an official selection of the 2011 SXSW Film Festival. To find out more on The First Movie and when it will be showing near you, visit


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