Letters From Baghdad: The True Story of Gertrude Bell and Iraq – Our Documentary Pick

We have been blessed, here at Brave New Hollywood, lately, with a row of  documentary films, and the film we must bring to your attention is one that is loved by us and many critics online.

Letters From Baghdad (distributed by Vitagraph Films) is an important, entertaining film we highly recommend. It is the untold story of Gertrude Bell, the trailblazing woman who not only mapped parts of the Middle East which, until her exploration, was unknown to the western world but also became the know-it-all expert on the region. She has also been called the “female Lawrence of Arabia.” What we know as today’s Iraq is due to her efforts in shaping the borders of that country. 

Letters From Baghdad (documentary film) sheds life on the massive contributions of British explorer Gertrude Bell - released by Vitagraph Films
Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) was an English writer, traveler, political officer, who explored and mapped today’s Iraq. She became highly influential to British imperial policy making, due to her extensive knowledge about Middle east.

This amazing, visual ride into world history, at the beginning of WWI, is directed by Zeva Oelbaum & Sabine Krayenbuhl who left no stone unturned when it came to researching their subject and the times she lived in. Backed by an impressive group of advisers and consulting producers, with a refreshing dose of girl-power (female producers), Letters from Baghdad is a must-see film for everyone from young students, in schools, to history buffs and families around the world. The story of this film and its people concern us all, and the filmmakers have done a very impressive job at telling it while an underlying element of their film reminds us of what connect us as human beings: a natural curiosity, and the openness to observe and learn from eachother.

Voiced by Academy award winning actress Tilda Swinton, who also executive produced this film, Letters From Baghdad creatively mixes the documentary narrative, using archival footage with produced (seemingly) first-person accounts, by featuring actors portraying the people in Bell’s life. In sit-down interview settings, key players such as Bell’s step sister, British army personnel, and friend, T.E. Lawrence (aka: Lawrence of Arabia) share observations about the woman they knew.  This enormously entertaining film offers lots of historic photographs, and tons of facts about how the Middle East was seen by the eyes of a modern, educated woman and the things missed by the men in her life. The filmmakers have also used Bell’s own 1600 letters to tell her side of the findings.

Voiced by actress Tilda Swinton, Letters From Baghdad is the untold story of British trailblazer Gertrude Bell who helped map today’s Iraq.

British explorer Gertrude Bell rides deep into Arabian Desert during WWI in "Letters from Baghdad" documentary film.
the story of Gertrude Bell, the pioneering woman who mapped today’s Iraq is the subject of “Letters From Baghdad” documentary film, directed by Zeva Oelbaum and Sabine Krayenbuhl. – Distributed by Vitagraph Films

Together, they all tell the dramatic story this British explorer, and political influencer who was also believed to be a British spy. Bell traveled widely from Iran to Arabia before being recruited by British military intelligence to help draw the borders of Iraq after WWI. The film chronicles her brave journey into the uncharted Arabian Desert as she navigates through a male dominated British colonial culture.

For its attention to detail, engaging techniques in storytelling, and bringing attention to the life of a massively important woman, Letters from Baghdad is truly a gift by its talented group of filmmakers to viewers everywhere.

It is a fascinating, valuable film about a major player who shaped what is now today’s Middle East. As she starts receiving the attention she deserves in recent years, Gertrude Bell is a woman that world will not forget.

See the film on the big screen as it opens this weekend in Los Angeles, at Laemmle Theatres (Santa Monica).

Watch the film’s trailer below.

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