A film by Sabine Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum
2016, 95 minutes
No. 073


This title is currently available for pre-order. DVDs will ship on June 1, 2017.

Voiced and executive produced by Academy award winning actor Tilda Swinton, Letters from Baghdad is a visually rich, beautifully crafted documentary that tells the extraordinary story of Gertrude Bell, who, more influential than her friend and colleague Lawrence of Arabia, shaped the modern Middle East in ways that still reverberate today.

An explorer, writer, archeologist, spy and political powerhouse, Bell was one of the most influential and fascinating women at the dawn of the 20th century. Widely travelled across Arabia, she was instrumental in pushing for an end to colonial rule and played a major role (alongside Churchill and T.E. Lawrence) in creating and administering the modern state of Iraq.

In telling her story, the documentary incorporates multiple viewpoints, and employs a truly stunning array of never-before-seen footage. As the filmmakers explain, “the results of our international search for footage stunned us. We discovered over 1000 extraordinary film clips in more than 25 archives around the world, some of it hand-tinted. Much of what we found had never been digitized, buried in reels that had been in storage for more than half a century. We were blown away by the vitality, the richness and the tapestry of different peoples populating the street scenes. We discovered the evidence of a truly vanished world—a world compelling and completely different from what we have grown accustomed to seeing in the media.”

Bell was also an avid photographer and letter writer. She left behind over 1600 letters and thousands of photographs. Letters from Baghdad integrates this rich material, along with excerpts from her contemporaries’ correspondences, private diaries and government documents, to present a unique look at a remarkable woman and the tangled history of the Middle East; a past that is eerily current.

Official Selection, International Documentary Festival Amsterdam
Official Selection, London Film Festival
Official Selection, DOC NYC