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


The filmmakers are available for in-person presentations and Q&A's. If interested please email info@grasshopperfilm.com.

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.

Winner, Focal Award for Best Use of Archival Footage in a History Feature
Official Selection, International Documentary Festival Amsterdam
Official Selection, London Film Festival
Official Selection, DOC NYC

"A fascinating documentary that shines a spotlight on British spy, explorer and political trailblazer Gertrude Bell. Tilda Swinton is the perfect choice to read the letters." - Time Out

"You emerge from the film with a divided heart: thrilled to hear of a woman who, ignoring the dictates of the age, filled her days to overflowing, yet ashamed to measure your own days and to find them, by comparison, hollow and bare. Is it too late to follow Gertrude Bell’s example? First, hire your camel." - The New Yorker

"Luckily, the documentary Letters From Baghdad has arrived to satisfy the audience’s hunger for details about Bell’s extraordinary life and career... a mesmerizingly immersive plunge into a time, place and cultural zeitgeist that feel simultaneously far away and of the moment. Ayone in search of context for today’s headlines, whether about the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War or the strategic break between several Arab states and Qatar, will be enriched by Letters From Baghdad. It provides a sturdy, often exhilarating bridge between the present and a past that not only isn’t distant, but isn’t even really past." - Washington Post

"In an age of a rebooted Wonder Woman, Bell is the real thing, intrepid, fierce and smart.... Letters From Baghdad reaffirms Bell’s legacy as pivotal in the West’s understanding of the Middle East.” - LA Times 

"A rich trove of archival footage. This is a vital history that binds us to the middle east of today." - WNYC

"Highly Recommended. An immersive look at her life, filled with amazing video footage from the time, drawn from many different archives." - Educational Media Reviews Online

"A superb documentary about one of history’s most amazing women, until now, largely forgotten…A daring, provocative film." - CBS

"Four stars. A finely wrought documentary... serves as a handy summary for those who want a cinematic introduction to Bell’s sprawling, singular story." - The Guardian 

"Not only informative, but also aesthetically rewarding with its music and visual archives, Letters from Baghdad offers a brilliant portrayal of Bell and the prewar Arab world." - Al Jadid